From Courses to Cooking Online, UVA’s Award-Winning Teachers Connect With Students

27 May 2021

By Anne Bromley

Not even a pandemic lockdown could stop Nathan Brunelle from having dinner with his students or baking them cookies. He recreated these activities virtually.

Instead of passing out the cookies, Brunelle, an assistant professor of computer science in the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, used them to illustrate computing circuits. He demonstrated difficult concepts by holding cooking sessions online.

Others among this year’s faculty teaching award recipients let go of dining with students in their homes – something they had done regularly before COVID-19 forced isolation and physical distancing – but they found other ways to connect.

“This year’s teaching award winners reflect the hard work, creativity and dynamism we see from all of our faculty, every day,” Liz Magill, executive vice president and provost, said. “Especially this year, our awardees have created learning environments to engage students and support their best learning in an unusual and challenging environment. They have fostered intellectual excitement and resiliency at a time when our students needed both more than ever.”

They displayed “teaching and pedagogical wizardry,” as Darden Professor Jim Detert called it, in support of his colleague Bobby Parmar. Many of the supporting letters from colleagues, students and recent alumni marveled at these professors’ skills in keeping students involved in virtual classes and relating their subject material to what was going on in daily life.

This past year, they “kicked it up a notch” in expressing compassion and positivity, not only to keep students engaged, but also to build trust and be there as everyone struggled with the difficult times. Some of their recent activities before the pandemic included real-world projects working with different community groups, and several recipients came up with innovations that continued to make an impact on students’ lives.

Here are some of the practices that make these professors stand out and garner their students’ insistence that these award-winning teachers are the best professors they have had at the University of Virginia.

Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award

Bobby Parmar, Shannon Smith Emerging Scholar in Business, associate professor of business administration, Darden School of Business

How Parmar gets students to enact concepts, teaching “Business Ethics” or his “Collaboration Lab”:

“Over my 13 years of being an educator at the University of Virginia, I am continually amazed by how much learning happens when the instructor ‘sets up the situation’ so that students can explore the material. Setting up the situation can mean posing a puzzling question, giving them a difficult situation to discuss, and helping them to feel something they did not expect by putting them into realistic simulations. The surprise they feel when they see themselves acting in a way they did not predict catalyzes learning. When students do something where they have to venture a part of themselves, they become energized to figure out how they did, why they behaved that way, and what they can do better. The situations I try to create in my classes are personal, social, and multi-sensory, all of which provide opportunities for creating richer and stronger memories and increase the odds that they can remember what they learned when they need it the most.”

Renowned colleague Ed Freeman, a University Professor and the Elis and Signe Olsson Professor of Business Administration at Darden, heaped praise upon Parmar. “He is one of the very best MBA teachers I have ever seen, and I have had the opportunity to observe the very best from all over the world during my 40-plus-year career,” Freeman wrote in support of his nomination.

“He is always available for the students outside of class, and I can testify, from listening to students, that during this pandemic he has gone way beyond the norm to be available for the students, both individually and as a group, so that they can get as much of the ‘Darden experience’ as possible under the circumstances.”

Continue reading the full story, including additional award winners, on UVA Today.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia