The speed at which Ashley Nemes-Baran has connected with her students is almost unheard of.

Nemes-Baran, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurosciences, started teaching at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine just last fall.

Not only is Nemes-Baran new to Case Western Reserve, but she teaches courses within the university’s new neurosciences undergraduate major.

Then toss in the added complication of remote instruction because of the pandemic.

“Clearly,” said Interim President Scott Cowen, when he informed her of winning the prestigious 2021 Jackson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring by surprise Zoom pop-in during the semester’s final Fundamentals of Neuroscience 2 class, “the past year’s circumstances didn’t stop you from connecting with students.”

Nemes-Baran’s students flooded Zoom chat with congratulatory comments and broke into virtual applause. She thought she was being audited or observed for her annual review because Lin Mei, the department chair, had logged in.

“I felt incredibly valued by the university to have the [interim] president and my department chair take time out of their busy schedules to announce to my class,” she said. “I was also thrilled to be able to share the moment with the incredible students who nominated me.”

Nemes-Baran will receive the award during the university’s convocation program on Sunday, May 30.

“She constantly offered opportunities that would help me explore my options in a career in the field of neuroscience,” one student wrote in her nomination letter.

“The way she taught the course and encouraged questions and exploration into the subject prompted me to constantly ask questions that pushed me to want to explore the subject matter further,” wrote another student.

Teaching remotely presented a challenge, Nemes-Baran said. But she maintained an open line of communication throughout the semester to learn what worked best to connect with her students. She also started a Zoom social event called “Neuroscience Networking,” which allowed students to connect with each other as well as faculty and guests outside of class in an informal setting.

The approach seemed to work, she said. These events allowed students to discuss neuroscience topics that interested them in more depth. They got to hear from faculty about their research. They were able to learn about internship opportunities. And they got to meet admissions committee members and medical and graduate students to learn about applying to programs and get career advice.

And it especially worked, she said, because she had “a group of engaging, outgoing, curious and friendly students.”

“The students at CWRU are inspirational and make teaching feel more like an opportunity than a job,” she said. “I’m so thankful to be able to help them along their journeys.”

About the award

The Jackson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring recognizes the positive impact Case Western Reserve University faculty and staff have on the lives of students. It was established by J. Bruce Jackson (ADL ’52), in honor of Dean Carl F. Wittke, who served as an advisor, mentor, and friend to Jackson when he was an undergraduate student at Western Reserve University.

The Jackson Award celebrates faculty and staff who have guided a student in their academic and career paths; fostered the student’s long-term personal development; challenged the student to reflect, explore and grow as an individual; and supported and/or facilitated the student’s goals and life choices.