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Iuliia (Julia) Inozemtseva is the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Lecturer Award in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. She was also honored recently with the 2020 Outstanding Instruction and Service Award in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.
She grew up on the beach of the Black Sea in Ukraine, in the city of Odessa. Inozemtseva says people from Odessa are well known for "being friendly and having a good sense of humor."
Over the past 10 years, she has taught in three different countries: Ukraine, Hungary and the United States. Her extensive international experience has helped her build an open-minded, culturally sensitive and people-centered world view. This has resulted in a welcoming and supportive environment in her math classes at ASU.
She has served as a lecturer in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences since 2017, teaching a wide range of mathematics a the first and second year level, including college mathematics (MAT 142), pre-calculus (MAT 170), business math (MAT 210, 211) and engineering calculus (MAT 265, 266, 267).
As a trilingual speaker, she empathizes with students who learn mathematics through English as a Second Language (ESL). It is natural for her to predict which abbreviations, terminology, concepts and examples might cause confusion to ESL students. Using her knowledge of how math is taught in various cultures, she can explain the same material in several ways, mentioning different notations to connect with their previous math experience. She often spends extra time after class helping her ESL students with their lecture notes, improving their writing and understanding of the material.
To support all of her students, Inozemtseva created a series of friendly-environment study sessions.
"Several times per week we get together and do homework, while having some tea and snacks. This setting provides all types of students with a chance to reach out to me in a more quiet and relaxing atmosphere," Inozemtseva said.
"On the first day of class, I emphasize that students do not need to prepare any questions to come to these study sessions. They are not obligated to participate, but are welcome to enjoy tea and the company of other students. This little detail transformed my normal office hours into collective study-sessions with 10 to 15 people, exchanging their thoughts, ideas, fears and life experiences.
"Many students feel comfortable to work out homework problems on the board and to teach others, which is a huge success when it comes to gaining a deep understanding of the material. In my evaluations, my students have written that this was the first time they have ever felt so welcomed and safe in class or during office hours."
As an international instructor, she realized her main challenge was to understand and adjust to the demands of local students. After teaching her first lecture in the U.S., she recognized that she would need to constantly explore new ideas and work to improve her methods. She attended many workshops and trainings, including some focused on creating environments in the classroom for students of any community, gender or race.
She uses metacognition awareness development tools as a new method to increase undergraduate students' motivation to discover more effective ways to enhance exam performance.
"In every exam or quiz, I ask students to predict their grade. After students get their graded tests back, they use the table I’ve created for the class to answer questions about how long they studied for the exam, how much effort/time they put into studying, what resources they used, what was hard in the test and how they can improve for the next exam," Inozemtseva said.
"Students are able to monitor and make changes in their exam preparation strategies, because students realize the role they play in their own grades. This helps them to learn how to organize studying time, to not have illusion of knowing, and to have more control over the outcome of their efforts.
"One of the significant goals of my teaching philosophy is to teach students how to study. I believe that many undergraduate students fail in college because they were never taught how to consistently learn new material independently. In the age of modern technology and access to worldwide information, I think it is crucial to encourage students to try different learning strategies and to point them to appropriate technological resources (lecture videos, practice quizzes and interactive-learning tools available on the internet)."
Inozemtseva is also very keen on introducing applications of the math concepts she’s covering in class. This is especially helpful for nonmajors in order to motivate the mathematics. Her training is in math biology and this training helps her in emphasizing applications, either in life science or in other fields, when explaining mathematics.
"Since I moved to the U.S., I’ve learned so many amazing applications of math. Now I use every possible moment to show some cool math animations, simulations and world problems in biology, coding and artificial intelligence, physics, engineering and even medicine.
"I love how amazed students are by all the new worlds unfolding in front of them. I try to find topics that might touch their hearts, and this helps a lot to bring interest and excitement into math learning."
Inozemtseva's favorite course to teach is Calculus I, and the whole calculus sequence.
"Because my students — hundreds! — follow me from class to class and we become a large supportive community for one and a half years. And this experience is just amazing," she said.
"I strongly believe that we need inspiring and compassionate teachers for that very first introduction to calculus in college. Because this is the place when we lose minority students the most. On the other hand, this is the best time when we could recruit many new students to STEM majors. But if students’ first experience with calculus is boring, stressful, full of pressure and disappointments — they leave and don’t come back. Some might even drop out of college.
"I love seeing how inspired my students are after my classes. How they switch to STEM majors after my classes. How they tell me that nobody ever told them before that they are strong and capable. Isn’t that crazy? Infecting students with confidence and excitement is probably one of the best parts of my teaching experience."
The nomination process for the Outstanding Lecturer Award is driven by students and is extremely competitive. Inozemtseva was selected from a pool of nearly 240 teaching faculty in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
One of the students who nominated Inozemtseva described how she "goes above and beyond for her students in every way possible."
"I went into Calculus I being intimidated of how difficult it would be, but the method in which she taught was phenomenal and she presented the material in a digestible manner. I left that class having a new found love for mathematics, and I have no doubt this was due to the way she taught the material. She quite literally made calculus fun through her contagious enthusiasm towards it, which is something I never thought was possible," the student said.
Another student who nominated Inozemtseva described her as the "most caring, and loving university-level professor I have ever met."
"Professor Inozemtseva was such a great professor in the area of calculus, I took all three calculus courses with her, which gave me a deep and meaningful learning experience. I will apply the knowledge that I learned in all three courses to my major in electrical engineering. And I am confident I will do well in this future career because of the solid foundation Professor Inozemtseva set for me," the student said.
A third student also took Inozemtseva's calculus series for three consecutive semesters: "Every class we had she would have a new math meme on the projector, which always made my day. She makes learning so effortlessly fun, with the many math jokes during her lectures. She opened my eyes to so many amazing opportunities and made me appreciate math even more."
"I have received emails from students in recent years requesting that she teach a certain class so they can take the class with her. I rarely receive those kinds of emails," said Scott Surgent, principal lecturer and associate director for First Year Mathematics. "They clearly enjoy her teaching skills and her kindness and supportive nature."
Al Boggess, director for the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, has seen the written comments on Inozemtseva's teaching evaluations and the student letters nominating her for this award.
"What comes across most prominently is her sense of empathy, which translates into an enthusiastic desire to help her students. Nearly all the students in the courses she teaches are in majors other than mathematics. Many of these students have deficient math backgrounds and some are math-phobic," he said. "Her friendly demeanor literally invites students to come talk to her about the difficulties they are having with math. Her keen knowledge about the subject matter, together with her sense of empathy, allows her to zero in on the right approach to explain the concepts needed to clear up the difficulty."
"Julia is more than just an outstanding instructor. Her sense of empathy comes through every time I talk to her about teaching and mentoring. She truly wants her students to succeed and finds the approach that works for each student she encounters in her classes," Boggess said.
"I can’t think of a more deserving recipient for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Outstanding Lecturer Award. I wish I could clone Julia many times over for the benefit of our students."