Dr. Jennifer Brielmaier and Dr. Jane Flinn Honored at 2016 Teaching Excellence Awards Ceremony

Dr. Jennifer Brielmaier and Dr. Jane Flinn Honored at 2016 Teaching Excellence Awards Ceremony
From left: Dr. Jennifer Brielmaier, Dr. Robert Smith, Dr. Jane Flinn and Dr. Linda Chrosniak

The Center for Teaching & Faculty Excellence (CTFE) honored Dr. Jennifer Brielmaier and Dr. Jane Flinn among other Mason faculty at the 2016 Teaching Excellence Awards Ceremony on April 11 at the Center for the Arts. Brielmaier received a 2016 University Teaching Excellence Award while Flinn accepted the 2016 David J. King Teaching Award. As stated by CTFE, these awards institutionally and monetarily recognize the “significant work that faculty members devote to course planning and preparation; curriculum development; and innovative teaching, advising, and undergraduate and graduate mentoring.”

“It’s definitely a good feeling,” said Brielmaier of her award. “I mean, I was surprised, I honestly think there are so many people at this university that are so deserving of such an award, so it was also a feeling of ‘well why did I get picked? Why me, over all these other people?’”

“I was surprised how pleased I was,” Flinn commented as well. “It’s nice to be appreciated. And actually, I didn’t think I was going to get it because Jen Brielmaier had gotten the teaching award the Thursday or Friday the preceding week [I was notified], and I didn’t hear anything then and thought ‘oh, I guess I didn’t get it.’ So it was a double surprise when I did.”

University Provost Dr. David Wu and Associate Provost Dr. Kimberly Eby presented the awards to Brielmaier, Flinn and a number of other faculty nominated by the Mason community and selected by the CTFE awards committee.

Brielmaier is a 2010 graduate of the Mason PhD program in biopsychology (now known as cognitive and behavioral neuroscience) and Flinn is the Director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program. Both teach psychology and neuroscience courses focusing on the study of the human brain.

Brielmaier particularly enjoys PSYC 372: Physiological Psychology, which she calls “one of the most fun” classes to teach.

“I know going in that a lot of them are taking it because they’re required to for the major,” Brielmaier said. “It’s not something they necessarily want to be taking, or they have this notion that they are not good at hard science or biology. It’s a fun challenge to try to get them to realize how relevant it is to their own lives, that they might be better at it than they thought, and that it could even be fun to study further. I love when people say they’re going to enroll in 376 [Brain and Behavior] after 372 because they really discovered an interest and realize they want to learn more.”

Flinn also loves sharing her passion for the human mind. “I really enjoy telling people what’s exciting about the brain and what new research is being discovered about how the brain works,” she said. “I think there are times when you can turn someone’s life around by making them understand what they can do with their lives, whether they can go on to grad school, perhaps, with the brain sciences.” 

Upon receiving her award, Flinn spoke to the audience about her journey as a physics major from Oxford, England who came to the United States to finish her Ph.D. at Catholic University. After discovering her love for psychology, she enrolled in the Ph.D. program at George Washington University, and now holds doctoral degrees in both subjects. She also discussed the changing roles of women in these fields during her career—she served as Mason psychology department chair during the 1980s and 1990s—and the greater flexibility the U.S. education system allows students to earn a degree.

“In the U.K., you decide what your undergraduate degree will be in high school—before you go to university—and it is very hard to change subjects of study after that,” Flinn explained. “In America, you take a breadth of courses and can change your major [more easily], and so you make a more informed choice. The system encourages and often requires students to take a breadth of courses that can have an unexpected outcome. This happened to me when I was required to take a physiology class at GWU, and discovered I loved it.”

This is the second consecutive year CTFE has recognized a psychology instructor, following Dr. Keith Renshaw’s receipt of a Teaching Excellence Award in 2015. The Department of Psychology congratulates both Dr. Brielmaier and Dr. Flinn on their awards, and plans to continue promoting excellence in teaching among all psychology and neuroscience professors.