Sarah Shandera, associate professor of physics, has been honored with the 2019 C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society. Instituted in 1972 and named in honor of Clarence I. Noll, dean of the college from 1965 to 1971, the award is the highest honor for undergraduate teaching in the college. Students, faculty members, and alumni nominate outstanding faculty members who best exemplify the key characteristics of a Penn State educator, and a committee of students selects the award winners from the group of nominees. Shandera was presented with the award during an event held on the University Park campus on October 10, 2019.
Shandera’s primary teaching objective is for students to gain confidence in their ability to tackle technical problems while enjoying the excitement of discovering different solutions. In each course, she incorporates a variety of active learning methods that help foster a positive learning experience both in the classroom and during one-on-one meetings. Shandera follows scientifically supported teaching practices and also offers students the opportunity to provide feedback on everything from tests to the physical spaces used. While the responses indicate that students enjoy the active-learning classes, Shandera aims to continue collecting information on how her classes can further evolve to provide the optimal teaching approach.
“I am dedicated to active learning not only because it is an excellent way to teach the skills that are at the heart of physics, but also because I love getting to know and understand how my students think,” said Shandera. “By interacting with my students each day, I can make adjustments that facilitate learning, while also helping them feel seen and valued.”
Shandera received a New Initiatives grant from The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation in 2019 and previous received research grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. She has been honored as an invited speaker at several universities and conferences and has published more than 40 papers in scientific journals. In conjunction to her research, Shandera is in her fifth year as a mentor for the Supernova Foundation, which encourages young women to pursue careers in physics.
Shandera joined Penn State as an assistant professor in 2011 and was promoted to associate professor in 2018. Prior to that, she was a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. She earned a doctoral degree in physics at Cornell University in 2006 and bachelor’s degrees in physics and math from the University of Arizona in 2001.