Bortree, Brown receive Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Denise Bortree, associate professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications; and Charles Brown, associate professor of accounting at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, are the recipients of the 2020 Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching.

The award recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty who have been employed full time for at least five years with undergraduate teaching as a major portion of their duties. Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, served as president of Penn State from 1950 to 1956.

Denise Bortree

Denise Bortree

Denise Bortree

Credit: Penn State

As a teacher and mentor to tomorrow’s public relations professionals, Bortree said it’s her duty to prepare students to communicate and act with integrity and to approach issues ethically. In an environment of disinformation, she said it’s essential that her students think critically about the communication they create and disseminate.

“I find that students have a strong sense of purpose and want to contribute to society, and when encouraged, see the connection between their own personal decision-making and the impact their work will have on society,” Bortree said. “I encourage students to explore their values through personal reflection and then explore how those values would influence their work style and their communications decisions.”

Bortree also excels at creating an effective learning environment for online learners. She finds that those students require flexibility, empowerment and connection and she’s focused on improving learning for Penn State World Campus students.

Because so many of her students are veterans, busy parents or employed, she’s always looking for ways to engage students with useful content. To achieve that, her course material is presented in several formats including video, audio and written material that can be studied in chunks as time allows. In one ethics course, she’s rolled out an online debate that let’s students engage with her and their peers.

Bortree finds that communication with students outside the classroom leads to better learning inside the classroom. She’s a mentor to her students and engages them through individual meetings — sometimes online — to review their portfolios, discuss career options and review internship and career opportunities. 

In her public relations campaign course, she tasks students to work with community partners and develop their own campaigns.

“This engagement with teammates, the community partners, and me outside the classroom models their future career work and helps them develop work-related behaviors that will benefit them as they transition into the profession,” Bortree said.

Additionally, Bortree chairs the Ethics Committee for the Commission on Public Relations Education. There, she leads a national group that identifies and recommends best practices for teaching public relations ethics. Recently, the committee led a team of faculty and professionals to draft guidelines for the required course in public relations ethics.

Charles Brown

Charles Brown

Charles Brown

Credit: Penn State

Brown says motivation is the most important aspect of teaching. Although you cannot force someone to learn, he said, our actions can facilitate the learning process.

“These actions are reflected in how we present the material, how we present ourselves, what we expect from individuals and what they should expect from instructors,” Brown said. “The key is to use these actions to motivate people into wanting to learn.”

Brown said his students should demand the same effort from him as he does from them. Each is expected to follow rules of timeliness, preparedness, attentiveness and best effort.

Nominators said Brown encourages his students to think outside the classroom. This is evident in a class project he created where students act as project managers responsible for a manufacturing budget. This approach pushed students to address real-world problems they encountered during the assignment.

“Projects like this help students develop important critical thinking skills for their careers,” a nominator said. “Brown’s focus on taking an analytical approach is the main reason students are successful after college.”

Brown also works to elevate his peers. The veteran educator continues to be a peer reviewer and a mentor to new faculty.

As associate director of the Black School of Business, Brown maintains the mentorship program. He’s also involved in extracurricular activities including Accounting Club, Open Houses, Welcome Week, Business Club President’s Committee and several more programs.

“An excellent teacher motivates students to love learning, and for those within the major, prepares and energizes them to engage in professional activities setting them up for success after graduating,” a nominator said. “Despite over two decades of teaching experience, Dr. Brown has never wavered from that contagious enthusiasm that has made a difference in the lives of countless students throughout the years.”