PBSC professors honored for innovative course projects

Professors_Tracy Ciucci_Ted Cascio_Stewart Distinguished Teaching Award
Professor Tracy Ciucci and Dr. Ted Cascio are recipients of the 2016 Stewart Distinguished Teaching Award. Photography by Idalia Centeno

Palm Beach State College presented its annual Stewart Distinguished Teaching Award to two professors Friday for their innovative course projects that keep students highly engaged.

Professor Tracy Ciucci, who teaches her health classes online or as a hybrid on the Lake Worth campus, and Dr. Ted Cascio, a psychology professor on the Palm Beach Gardens campus, were chosen by a nine-member committee of their peers from a pool of 27 applicants for the award that comes with a $5,000 cash prize.

They were surprised with the awards during Faculty Convocation at the Duncan Theatre on the Lake Worth campus, where College leaders officially welcomed faculty and staff for the start of the new academic year. Classes begin Aug. 23.

“I feel like a million bucks,’’ Ciucci said after the event. “I feel valued, acknowledged and respected for the work that I and our entire faculty do above and beyond expectations. This award represented every one of our excellent faculty, and our amazing students are our inspiration daily.”

As part of the self-nomination process, professors must demonstrate that they go above and beyond the norm by developing, implementing, assessing and analyzing innovative learning practices to help students succeed in reaching their academic goals.

Cascio was chosen because of a one-to-one service learning project he calls  “The Helping Project.”  Students use course concepts to help a friend or family member who may struggle with relationship issues, lack of motivation, academic problems or other issues. “These are all instances where psychology can help,’’ Cascio said, noting that students were extremely engaged with the assignment that he implemented for the first time last fall.

“I’m honored to receive the award,’’ said Cascio who began teaching at PBSC in fall 2014 after three years at the College of New Jersey. “I thank the College for offering me the opportunity and the people on the committee that selected me. And, I thank my students as well who were very receptive to the assignment and who displayed great creativity and ability in completing it.  It’s a pleasure to work with such wonderful students.”

Ciucci was chosen for her “Tracy Talks” assignment that patterns after the popular “Ted Talks.” Students must create a professional research proposal and develop a research project in which they identify a global, community, national or personal problem rooted in an area of health.

“They have to solve the problem in a visionary, differentiated and new way and cannot use existing solutions and protocol for the problem,’’ she said, adding that students develop professional presentations on video in a green screen room and those works are edited for them to use for their portfolios. She said students have completed a variety of projects, including looking at holistic approaches to an ADHD diagnosis, diabetes and domestic violence.

“There are many types of problems that the students choose, but they invest themselves fully in this because they ultimately choose something that’s close to their own heart,’’ she said.

Dr. Anita Kaplan, dean of bachelor’s degree programs who chairs the award committee, said the number of applications for the award was up this year because the committee, which includes previous winners, began marketing efforts in November rather than in January after winter break.

“It’s really refreshing to read all of the creative strategies that individuals are using online and in the classroom because we get both kinds of applicants,” Kaplan said. “People are using a whole lot of mediums to engage students. The days of chalk and talk are not what engage our students anymore. It’s all about student learning, student engagement and being successful at keeping the students actively involved in the learning process.”

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