Goss, O'Rourke Null Named "Outstanding" at TTU Faculty Honored for Teaching and Service

Many future healthcare professionals, creative writers and current university employees already know why three Tennessee Tech University faculty members have earned 2001 Outstanding Teaching and Professional Service awards -- it's the personal investments in their work and their students.

Susan Goss, professor of biology, and Michael O'Rourke, assistant professor of English, have been named recipients of Tennessee Tech's Outstanding Faculty Awards in Teaching. Linda Null, assistant professor of English, is this year's winner of Tennessee Tech's Outstanding Faculty Award in Professional Service.

The honorees will receive a plaque and $1,500 honorarium during the university's spring commencement ceremonies.


Students preparing to be biologists or healthcare professionals face labor-intensive lab work in their microbiology, medical microbiology and immunology courses. Several students say finding Susan Goss teaching these courses is their first step toward having success in school and on the job.

"By being in her courses that were structured to resemble 'real-world' jobs, I was better able to obtain the skills needed to be a successful scientist," said Goss' former research and teaching assistant Stephen Clark.

Goss designs all of her lab exercises and wrote the manuals used in two microbiology courses. She teaches all lab sessions, declining help from graduate level teaching assistants because she wants to personally manage the challenging and potentially hazardous lab experiences for her students.

"Her enduring patience combined with her personable teaching brought the material to an understandable level," said former student Paula Willey. "Students felt free to speak in class and were never turned away for tutoring. She showed respect for every student."

A charter member of the American Society for Microbiology's Education Division, Goss stays updated on innovative teaching methods and information technology applications for teaching microbiology. She advises undergraduate biology majors in microbiology and volunteers as an unofficial adviser to other students interested in medical technology.

She joined TTU in 1987 as an assistant professor of biology after a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute. She received her doctorate in microbiology at Montana State University in 1984.


"Mr. O'Rourke takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary."

Colleague Heidemarie Weidner gave the compliment specifically about O'Rourke's essay, "Laughing Gulls and Chameleons," but she, other faculty members and students also apply it to his teaching and attitude.

Students and faculty members see O'Rourke as an encourager. He promotes class discussions and student confidence.

"He encourages individualism and strives to make his students feel comfortable with drawing their own conclusions and searching for individual truth and identity," said former student Marcia Lee Herren.

O'Rourke, who joined Tennessee Tech in 1989, teaches expository writing, creative writing, professional and technical communication and literature and the environment. He's also the founding editor of Under the Sun, a nationally recognized literary journal devoted to the publication of informal essays.

Although he's developed upper-division courses in creative writing and the study of nature writing in American non-fiction, his reputation for building confidence in beginning writers makes him memorable to his students.

"I am especially impressed that Mr. O'Rourke prefers teaching English 101 over English 102," said Weidner. "Many composition teachers shy away from working with students fresh out of high school."

Former student Beth Smith says she and her classmates learned studying English "could be done without all the drudgery; in fact, it might even be fun."

"The most valuable thing he has taught me is to think more," she said. "This is the ultimate job skill that everyone needs. He seems to desire creativity and originality more than anything else."

O'Rourke earned his master's of fine arts in fiction writing and a master's degree in expository writing from the University of Iowa. An accomplished author, he has published more than 25 essays and won two "notable" citations in Best American Essays.


Linda Null's ability to serve shows through in an area that is demanding, time consuming and sometimes dreaded -- university committee work.

Active in more than a dozen committees, she chairs the Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee, English Department Curriculum Committee, Plagiarism Committee and International Students/Honors Students Speakers Program.

"Dr. Null is among the most energetic and hardest working faculty members when it comes to service work," said Phillip Campana, chairperson of TTU's foreign languages department.

Null also commits a large amount of time as secretary of the Faculty Senate. Colleagues say she is always well prepared, organized, efficient and tireless. "Professor Null has grown into perhaps the most judicious and conscientious faculty leader in our college," said Jack Armistead, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Null, who joined TTU's faculty in 1979, directs the university's Writing Lab, a resource for students needing extra help improving communications skills. She is the editor of the Tennessee English Journal and the assistant editor of Under the Sun.

In another area of service, Null has directed the Tennessee High School Championship Academic Bowl since 1998, demonstrating considerable organizational skills. She keeps tabs on the year-long competition, organizing people and schedules for more than 100 rounds of competition. She oversees every task from writing questions to ordering food for workers.

A graduate of Tennessee Tech with bachelor's and master's degrees in English, Null received her doctorate in English from the University of Tennessee.