UB Student Association Honors 4 Faculty Members for Teaching Excellence, Commitment to Students

By Arthur Page

Release Date: April 11, 2001 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Four faculty members at the University at Buffalo have received the 2001 Milton Plesur Excellence in Teaching Awards from the undergraduate Student Association recognizing their teaching excellence and commitment to students.

The awards honor Plesur, a UB faculty member who died in 1987. The Student Association renamed its Excellence in Teaching Awards for Plesur -- one of its first recipients -- after his death.

A nationally regarded author and scholar of popular culture and the American presidency, Plesur delighted generations of students with his entertaining lectures that mixed erudition with warmth and humor.

Recipients of the Plesur award are student-nominated and selected. This year's recipients, who were honored recently at a ceremony, are:

• Gregory Baker, assistant professor in the Department of Geology in the College of Arts and Sciences. A UB faculty member since 1999, Baker also serves as director of the geology department's Environmental Geophysics Research (EGR) Laboratory, which applies the principles and theories of physics and instrumentation to examine the upper 200 meters of the Earth's subsurface. He teaches courses on global environmental science, geophysics/tectonics and environmental geophysics. Baker received his doctorate from the University of Kansas. He is a resident of Amherst.

• Kemper Lewis, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. A UB faculty member since 1996, he is director of the Design of Open Engineering Systems (DOES) Research Lab in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, which promotes and advances the state-of-the-art in multidisciplinary design optimization and modern design theory. Lewis has received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development grant to apply game theory -- the same theory military strategists use -- to improve the manufacturing design process. He teaches upper-level courses in "Machines and Mechanisms II," "Design Process and Methods," "Design of

Complex Engineering Systems," "Advanced Design Theory" and "Optimization in Engineering Design." Lewis earned two bachelor's degrees from Duke University and master's and doctoral degrees from Georgia Institute of Technology. Lewis lives in Amherst.

• Tamara Plakins Thornton, professor in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences. A specialist in American cultural and intellectual history, Thornton is the author of "Handwriting in America: A Cultural History," which explores the many ways in which Americans historically have used handwriting as both a lesson in conformity and a talisman of individuality. A UB faculty member since 1994, she also authored "Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite, 1785-1860," a study of how 18th- and 19th-century American industrialists developed country estates and gardens in an attempt to identity themselves with European aristocracy and offset their popular identification as exploiters of the environment and the working classes. Thornton, who earned a doctorate in American studies from Yale University, is a resident of Buffalo.

• Jennifer Zirnheld, a lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. A doctoral student in electrical engineering, Zirnheld has taught in the department since 1996. Among the courses she teaches are "Electrical Devices," "Power Electronics Engineering I" and "Engineering Solutions." She has been the Bergquist Doctoral Fellow in Energy Systems since 1998 and before that was the James Clerk Maxwell Primex Doctoral Fellow and the James Clerk Maxwell Olin Doctoral Fellow. She received bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical and computer engineering from UB. She is a resident of Buffalo.