Jefferson Scholars Foundation honors five outstanding UVA faculty members

April 23, 2024

The Jefferson Scholars Foundation has announced the winners of its 2024 faculty awards. Five UVA faculty members were recognized last week at a ceremony at the Foundation and received awards totaling $25,000.

This year, the Foundation invited department chairs and deans across the University to nominate full-time faculty members for its Award for Excellence in Teaching. The Foundation also invited department chairs in the Engineering School to nominate members of the faculty for the Hartfield Excellence in Teaching Award. Winners of both awards were selected by a review committee comprised of current UVA faculty. 

“We administer these awards every year with the firm belief that without outstanding faculty, the Foundation’s mission to attract to UVA exceptional students would remain unfulfilled,” said Ben Skipper, vice president and director the Foundation’s Jefferson Scholars Program. 

2024 Recipients of the Award for Excellence in Teaching

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, in 2012 the Jefferson Scholars Foundation began recognizing University faculty who have demonstrated both excellence in teaching and exceeding care for their students. This award honors those teachers in our community who have gone the extra mile in fulfilling their vocation without regard for their own advancement. This year’s recipients are:


Kevin Grise

Kevin Grise, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, examines atmospheric dynamics and their role in variability and long-term change in the climate system. 

Nomination Highlight: “Professor Grise meets students wherever they are academically, tailors projects to the interests of every individual, and facilitates student engagement with the material in productive ways through thoughtfully crafted, hands-on assignments. Often, he prepares his materials months in advance to give himself the opportunity to think deeply about the organization of his courses and refine his approach.”


Matt Pryal

Matt Pryal, an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy, completed his Ph.D. at UVA in 2020. His research focuses on the atmospheres and orbits of hot Jupiter exoplanets. 

Nomination Highlight: “Matt has a fabulous combination of teaching qualities: youthful energy and enthusiasm, humor, respect for his audience, and a brilliant clarity of expression which is so important in a technical subject like astronomy. I have watched him both in a class setting and in a public setting and been so impressed (indeed envious) of his ability to hold his audience, react spontaneously, sprinkle humorous asides, and instill awe and excitement.”


Sylvia Tidey

Syliva Tidey is an associate professor who is jointly appointed in the Department of Anthropology and the pan-university, interdisciplinary Global Studies Program. Her areas of specialty cover a wide spectrum and include corruption, bureaucracy, the state, kinship, sexuality, gender, HIV/AIDS, phenomenological anthropology, and Southeast Asia.

Nomination Highlight: “I have watched students respond to Sylvia’s infallibly positive classroom presence and demeanor many times. She is remarkably flexible and quick to adapt the format of a class to students’ interests and needs. Her adaptability is on display in individual settings as well as a larger class setting. One of her skills I have come to admire most is her responsiveness to students’ differences. She is able to diagnose a struggling student’s problem and help them through it, but she is equally able to help accelerate an advanced student’s intellectual growth.”


2024 Recipients of the Hartfield Excellence in Teaching Award

Since 2010, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation has recognized faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Science with the Hartfield Award. Recipients demonstrate that communicating knowledge and inspiring students are as important to the education process as scholarship, and they exemplify the highest standards and practices of teaching. This year’s recipients are:


Brian Helmke

Brian Helmke, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, examines the relationship between cell mechanics and cell function using new tools in materials science and molecular biology, with a focus on cardiovascular disease.

Nomination Highlight: “Brian approaches teaching with tremendous creativity and passion. He brings these attributes both to the classroom setting and to the advising of undergraduate research in his laboratory. He had the idea for and mentored the creation of the Starting an Undergraduate Research Experience (SUREprogram in BME, which helped dozens of undergraduate students gain research experiences they might not otherwise have had. In the past three years, he has mentored 31 undergraduate researchers.”


Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith, an associate professor and director of undergraduate mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, studies systems engineering and the design process, reliability assessment and design, prediction of material properties, and structural system responses using statistical methods.

Nomination Highlight: “Natasha is the most dedicated hard-working professor I have ever known. She routinely and voluntarily carries twice the teaching load expected of general faculty. In addition, she teaches the most intensive laboratory courses, which require supervision of several graduate student teaching assistants, shop technicians, and a wide variety of experimental laboratory equipment. Such ‘off the charts’ levels of contribution would seem to completely preclude high-quality teaching, but Natasha is one of the most admired teachers by students, by staff and by her faculty colleagues.”

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