By, Kyla Guilfoil, Asst. News Editor
Psychology professor Maria Maust-Mohl, Ph.D., was honored with the 2021 Costello Award for Excellence in Teaching on Tuesday, Nov. 4th.
According to manhattan.edu, the award is given to a faculty member of Manhattan College’s School of Liberal Arts every year, to recognize an individual who demonstrates an excellence in teaching that aligns with the character of MC and its central mission, as well as the mission of the Lasallian Christian Brothers.
The award was named after Brother Casimir Gabriel Costello, FSC, (1910-92), who was an MC graduate, chair of the history department for several years and dean of the college during the years 1953-59. Costello published a book entitled “The Arches of the Years” that traced the history of Manhattan College from the year of its founding until 1979.
While honoring Maust-Mohl in Costello’s memory, the college also presented the 2020 Costello Award for Excellence in Teaching on Nov. 4th, which honored Adam Arenson, Ph.D., professor of history and director of the urban studies program.
These awards were presented prior to the 19th annual Costello Lecture, which occurred on Nov. 9th. This year’s lecture featured Carol Symes, Ph.D., a medieval historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose lecture was entitled “The Black Death and Beyond: New Les- sons from Plagues Past.”
According to manhattan.edu, Maust-Mohl has been a faculty member since 2011, bringing with her an interdisciplinary background in psychology, conservation biology, ecology and evolutionary biology.
Zella Moore, Ph.D., chairperson of the psychology department, spoke to the importance of Maust-Mohl’s role at the college.
“One thing about Dr. Maust-Mohl, which makes her really special, is that she has a very unique area of expertise and research focus that is very, very unique to our department,” Moore told The Quadrangle. “So she is more of a biological and cognitive psychologist. And so her work is on a lot of animal behavior and animal cognition and animal language. And that is extremely hard to find at the undergraduate level across this country. And so we’re really lucky to have her in that regard.”
Moore added that on top of teaching, Maust-Mohl is a faculty advisor and actively researches in her field.
Maust-Mohl told The Quadrangle that her research focuses on animal behavior and communication, and that she has recently been focusing on issues such as the sounds that animals make, the functions that are connected to those sounds and how the environment impacts what those sounds are.
Maust-Mohl added that since her first year at MC, she has been able to work with students on her research and perform hands-on study through her role as a professor.
“I have organized a study abroad program at Manhattan College, so I’ve been able, for at least five years, to bring students to the Bahamas to study dolphins there, so we are continuing with research there,” Maust-Mohl said. “They’re studying the bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins that are located in and around the island of Bimini. So we’re studying their communication, looking at different kinds of vocalizations. We’ve discovered not something completely novel, but something that seems to be common for many dolphin populations, that there are these sequences of calls and trying to understand what patterns exist in those and what, what type of elements are included in those sequences. That’s something that we’re actively describing.”
Maust-Mohl shared that she views psychology as a very interdisciplinary field, and incorporates her studies with animals into topics that can also discuss human behavior. She explains that animal models have often been used in psychology to understand human mental processes and behavior.
“There are a lot of tie-ins to the research I’m doing to help broaden that perspective of what behavior and mental processes really means,” Maust-Mohl said. “Stemming to this interdisciplinary question, you know, of what the brain is, what the mind is and how it’s all related, but not not just in humans, in many other species as well.”
Moore believes that this award will inspire Maust-Mohl to continue on with her dedication towards her teaching and research.
“[Maust-Mohl] has done so many great things over time,” Moore told The Quadrangle. “She’s been here nearly 10 years and everything that she’s worked on has really been stellar. We’ve really seen her begin as a novice professor and researcher, and blossom into somebody that is really a force to be reckoned with. And I’m positive it makes her go back and approach her lectures and her preparation and the research work that she is doing and all of the ways that she’s being a teacher and a scholar and lights a new fire under her.”
Moore added that this kind of award is both great for Maust-Mohl as an individual and for the psychology department as a whole. She explained that recognition like this can attract new minors and majors to the department, as well as inspire students to become more interested in the human condition and its processes.
Lea Creaven, a senior psychology major, took Cognition and Learning with Maust-Mohl in the fall 2020 semester. Creaven said that despite taking the course in a remote format, Maust-Mohl was able to make it a lively and intriguing experience. Creaven told The Quadrangle that Maust-Mohl’s passion for her work and her knowledge is clear, which encouraged Creaven to be excited to learn.
Creaven is currently working on a research project with Maust-Mohl, entitled, “Acoustic signals of common hippos (Hippopotamus amphibious),” which Creaven describes as being a rewarding and exciting experience.
“Dr. Maust-Mohl really tries to take time to connect with her students both in the classroom and when completing research,” Creaven said. “All of my questions and comments feel welcomed, and Dr. Maust-Mohl even encourages meeting with her to learn more about the topic….It is very refreshing to work with someone who is so passionate about their work and it is a true honor to work with her.”
Eleni Glytsea, a senior psychology and sociology double major, shared a similar experience, as she is both a former student of Maust-Mohl and a current research assistant to her.
“I would describe her teaching style as informative and influential,” Glytsea told The Quadrangle. “She delivers the information for the course in a manner that keeps students engaged. Additionally, she is always there for her students if they need help. I think Dr. Maust-Mohl most definitely deserved this recognition due to her many influences in the psychological field and her academic achievements.”
Maust-Mohl shared that this award is one of the best ways that she feels a professor can be recognized at the college, and encourages her to continue striving for a high standard in her work.
“It really means a lot to have that feedback that I am having a positive impact in ways that I hope to, and of course I don’t see that as an endpoint,” Maust-Mohl said. “My teaching will continue to grow and develop and I don’t see it as something that’s going to stop here. I have plans already for next semester, continuing to revise courses to find new ways to reach the students and trying to engage you all better and challenge you more and also inspire, because I know how important mentors were to me in my past experience, and I hope to have that same impact.”