May 7, 2021

These Purdue professors were about more than teaching during the pandemic

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Here is what great teaching looks like during a pandemic: A professor worries about his students, so he creates an anonymous Life Check-In board and responds to every post to offer encouragement or support. Another professor launches a global learning community to support conversation hours and peer mentor programs to replicate in-person experiences that are no longer possible.

The best instructors provided compassion, resources and personal support to help their students during a time that may have been the most difficult in their young lives. Purdue University recently celebrated its top teaching awards, recognizing 10 teachers who overcame obstacles of a global pandemic to innovate instruction and deliver impactful learning. Through their persistent pursuit of excellence, they assisted students in achieving their greatest potential with every class or lab – either in person, virtually, or both – shaping future Boilermaker leaders and changemakers.

A full list of the 2021 teaching awards – the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B. Murphy, the Exceptional Early Career Teaching Award and the Excellence in Instruction Award for Lecturers – is available online. A series of video stories capturing their passion for teaching and students also can be viewed on YouTube. 

Here are some highlights:

freed-portrait Andrew Freed Download image

Andrew Freed, creating Life Check-In.

In addition to his dedication to tailoring his lectures to his students’ needs and interests, Freed, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, also prioritized looking after their emotional well-being during COVID.

With the onset of the pandemic, Freed added a new virtual discussion board called Life Check-In. It encouraged students to share non-academic issues they might be facing – good news, bad news, pictures of their pets, dinners they had cooked and were happy about, things they missed, or struggles they were having. Freed responded to every comment but was overwhelmed by how supportive the students were of each other.

During the pandemic, students who were already on edge, struggling with hunger or homesickness, depression or domestic strife, were even more likely to need help. Purdue is a big place, and people can get lost in it. The discussion board was a way to make a smaller community out of a bigger one, and one that resonated strongly with his students. His video.

duncan-portrait Natasha Duncan Download image

Natasha Duncan, building Global House.

In response to constraints presented by the pandemic and the challenges of returning to campus for some students over the last year, Duncan, clinical associate professor and associate dean for international education and affairs in the Honors College, worked with colleagues and student peer mentors to launch and facilitate Global House, a transnational learning community composed of 191 online learners across the country and around the world.

“Global House provided a community for students where they could engage in a range of virtual extracurricular activities, including a peer mentor program, academic success workshops, social hours, conversation hours, cultural exchanges and workshops aimed at creating a sense of belonging to the Honors College and Purdue,” Duncan says. “It enabled us to overcome some constraints presented by remote work.” Her video.

garcia-portrait Esteban García Bravo Download image

Esteban García Bravo, entering students digital world.

When the pandemic hit, García, an associate professor of computer graphics technology, pursued other ways to connect with students in Fundamentals of Imaging Technology and Digital Illustration. He expanded use of digital apps such as Discord or Miro – and “wherever students live digitally,” he says.

Few could have seen the extent of the changes for learning and instruction that the pandemic would trigger. García, however, knows that university professors and researchers must pivot, adapt, course-correct – you name it – for the dynamics of computer graphics technology in an online-heavy environment. Moreover, he was prepared because he had been offering online classes since 2014.

“One thing that helped me feel more connected with students is giving them more quality, individualized feedback and providing many ways of accessing me or the content synchronously and asynchronously. You have to be able to talk and collaborate with them in a new way,” Garcia says.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

Media contact: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-412-0864,,

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