By Anand Venigalla
Three professors were honored this spring with the David Newton Award, the highest teaching award given by Long Island University. These professors were Nicholas J. Ramer, associate professor of chemistry; Maria Porter, professor of theater; and Jennifer Snekser, assistant professor of biology.
Porter enjoys teaching theater. “I have taken my students with me to theater festivals around the world. They have won awards. I performed with my students at the Kennedy Center many years ago,” she said. “I am particularly fond of and grateful for their ability to fully embrace the rigorous teaching method that I have, that is a hybrid between a Suzuki method and the Stanislavski system.” These are methods of training that help the performer create physical and psychological actions.
“When you’re in the commercial paragon of theater, you have an agent you work with, you audition, and if a director chooses to work with you, you work,” she said. “If you make your own work, you find your own space to work in. If you wish to collaborate with people, you ask those people to collaborate with you. You find the money to produce, and you produce it. You call the shots.”
Porter has advice for life and creativity. “My life advice is to work hard and try to always make a profit and to practice patience, courage, generosity whenever possible,” she said. For aspiring students who want to go into theater, “I would say don’t ever let anybody tell you, ‘you can’t do this,’ and there are a thousand ways to make a life in the theater, not all of which are obvious.”
Dr. Ramer was the third person in his family to receive a double degree from Post in mathematics and chemistry. Ramer returned to Post in 2000 as an assistant professor in chemistry. In 2006, he was appointed the assistant dean for the college of liberal arts and sciences, and in 2009 he became associate dean. In this role, Dr. Ramer established the genetic counseling graduate program on campus. In 2015, he became the acting dean of the college. For his administrative work, he received the Green and Gold Staff Recognition Award in 2010.
After stepping down from his administrative position and returning full-time to the chemistry department in 2016, Dr. Ramer continued teaching organic and biochemistry. Ramer’s research has focused on the structural and vibronic properties of ferroelectric materials, both inorganic and organic.
Dr. Jennifer Snekser, assistant professor of biology, was also honored. “I have always loved science and animals since I was a young child,” she said. “I was fortunate to do behavioral research with killer whales when I was an undergraduate at Canisius College, and then I focused on fish social behavior when I earned my master’s at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and my PhD at Lehigh University.”
Snekser finds the study of evolution and ecology vital to understanding the world. “Thinking about the history of life on this planet and the interconnectedness of all living things really puts our own individual lives into perspective,” she said. “Understanding evolution allows us to appreciate that beauty,” she said.
Snekser is currently studying the social behavior of zebrafish and its relation to stress. “Zebrafish are social and associate with other zebrafish in groups called shoals,” she said. “They make choices on who they will associate with and one of the factors is group size: zebrafish generally like to hang out in bigger groups.” Snekser is measuring the stress hormone cortisol to see its impact on such decision making. “It turns out that zebrafish that are alone express higher levels of cortisol than zebrafish in groups. And males and females express different levels of cortisol.” Snekser identifies similar patterns in human males and females. “Understanding behavioral and physiological mechanisms in animals helps us to better understand them in humans.”
“The best thing about teaching at Post is how much fun we have. I’ve been teaching introductory biology for many years and I always enjoy my interactions with students.” Snekser said. “Sure, we have a lot of complex concepts to understand, but we also do our best to enjoy the topics. I also really appreciate the support I have of all of my colleagues at LIU Post. I’m so lucky to work with a great group of scholars and educators.”