They provide expertise, rigorous content and inspiration. Northeastern surprises professors with University Excellence in Teaching Awards

professor Miso Kim receiving University Excellence in Teaching award
David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, surprises Miso Kim with the University Excellence in Teaching Award at Ryder Hall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Two Northeastern University faculty ended last week with plenty of reason to celebrate: They were awarded Northeastern’s annual University Excellence in Teaching Award.

Every year Northeastern recognizes educators who demonstrate deep expertise in their field, provide rigorous content in their courses and inspire their students. Miso Kim, assistant professor of art and design, and Laura Kuhl, assistant professor of public policy and urban affairs and international affairs, received the university’s top teaching honors this year.

Kim helped create Northeastern’s experience design program, which focuses on understanding the human experience––goals, needs and desires––in order to craft better design solutions. The crown jewels of her curricula are courses focused on designing for collective experiences and designing for dignity. Kim’s design for dignity course was selected as one of the first design courses to be offered at Mills College at Northeastern University.

“I am so moved by my community,” Kim says. “I am grateful to be a part of a university that values teaching, teaching excellence and celebrates its members in such an exciting and meaningful way.”

David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and Debra Franko, senior vice provost for academic affairs, surprised Kim with her award during a class last week. Kim said the honor belongs just as much to her students, who have been instrumental in making her classes into fulfilling experiences.

“My class is very participatory, and I make it clear to my students from the beginning that we are making all of this together,” Kim says. “My research is dignity and autonomy, so by doing that, I want to make my classes an opportunity to nurture the sense of autonomy for my students who are future designers. … I want to support my students to become autonomous designers and autonomous human beings who can learn how to grow their own perspectives through life.”

Franko says Kim was chosen by the University Excellence in Teaching Award selection committee for her interdisciplinary approach in the classroom and ability to connect classroom learning with real-world, societal issues. 

“Her interdisciplinary approach to teaching offers students opportunities to tackle complex societal issues through design, with their eyes open to addressing the inherent ethical dilemmas,” Franko says.

Kuhl, who is jointly appointed between the school of public policy and urban affairs and school of international affairs, takes a similarly holistic approach in her courses on climate and environmental policy and justice. She says her recognition by the award committee reinforces the importance of her work.

“It really speaks to the fact that the courses that I teach and the topics that we cover are of critical importance in the world,” Kuhl says. “This award really feels to me like recognition that this is something that students want to engage in and that they’re hungry to discuss these kinds of challenges and ways to address them.”

Kuhl’s classes bring together undergraduate and graduate students from a range of disciplines across the university. Kuhl embraces her students’ diverse perspectives and experiences by fostering dialogue and grounding her classes in real-world case studies of climate policy conversations, all with a constant emphasis on justice and equity.

“Students in her courses become adept at approaches to understanding, for example, climate change and environmental policy, and moreover, become aware that solutions to complex problems will require interdisciplinary approaches,” Franko says.

Her new climate policy and justice course in the fall 2022 semester was a favorite among students. Kuhl says the course benefited from perfect timing. The U.S. had just passed its most significant piece of climate legislation in decades, and the U.N. was engaged in climate negotiations. 

She seized the moment and tasked her students with reporting on climate news on a weekly basis, focusing on what the media did and didn’t cover in order to understand how the media can shape climate policy conversations. She was also able to get her students official observer badges for the U.N. climate negotiations, giving them virtual front row seats to some of the most important climate conversations.

Embracing her students’ passion for these conversations while conveying the complexity of the challenges ahead has been Kuhl’s approach in the classroom, something her students––and the university––have responded well to.

“One of the things that I encounter a lot is that there’s this tension between wanting to identify solutions and the need to really deeply understand the problem in all of its complexity,” Kuhl says. “I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can leave with hope but not simplify our understanding of the challenges.”

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.