Honoring Excellence in the Classroom

August 1, 2005

 

Every year, Trinity College and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Writing present awards to recognize excellence in teaching undergraduates. This year's winners are:

Edward Balleisen

Edward Balleisen
Jim Wallace

Edward Balleisen
Associate professor of history

Howard D. Johnson Award, recognizes a full professor who inspires respect in the highest traditions of American democracy, free enterprise, and Western civilization

"My scholarly preoccupations lie at the intersection of law, business, society, and culture, all in the post-revolutionary United States," Balleisen says. "In my core lecture classes, undergraduates constantly confront the connections among these dimensions of historical experience. I want my students to gain historical literacy so that they can place contemporary dilemmas in a broad historical context. To make sense of an increasingly complex economic and legal world, undergraduates need to have a basic grasp of how the corporation emerged and evolved in America, or how basic approaches to regulation have changed dramatically from the early nineteenth century to the present."

 
Sherryl Broverman

Sherryl Broverman
Jim Wallace

Sherryl Broverman
Assistant professor of the practice of biology

David and Janet Vaughn Brooks Award, recognizes teachers excelling in science and mathematics

"I try to stretch students' understanding by taking them out of their intellectual comfort zone. Analyses of non-intuitive results make them more aware of their subconscious assumptions. Unexpected answers also pique their curiosity about what forces shape the biological world. To this end, I organize my courses around questions they may not have even thought to ask, such as how technological advancement can enhance the spread of disease or why infanticide can be adaptive. I believe that repeatedly challenging their preconceived notions stimulates students to be more open to new ideas.

"My goal is not to produce more scientists or doctors, but young adults better equipped to understand the natural world around them and their place in it."

 
Peter McIsaac

Peter McIsaac
Jim Wallace

Peter McIsaac
Andrew W. Mellon assistant professor of German

Richard K. Lublin Award, recognizes teachers who engender intellectual excitement, curiosity, and knowledge of their field

"I work from the premise that student mastery of linguistic proficiency cannot be separated from gaining competence in the historical, cultural, and literary discourses related to that language," McIsaac says.

"In some sense, I see myself as a kind of erudite guide whose task it is, using his knowledge of the target and native terrains, to conduct students on a journey of encounter to which they come with varying kinds of 'outfitting'--for instance, level of German, background in literary interpretation, experience living abroad. The journeys I offer my students are exciting and open-ended (also for me as instructor); they are interactive and as much a function of students' needs and responses as they are of my itinerary."

 
Suzanne Shanahan

Suzanne Shanahan
Jim Wallace

Suzanne Shanahan
Assistant professor of sociology

Robert B. Cox Award, recognizes teachers with a long-standing commitment to teaching who encourage intellectual excitement in their students

"I encourage the development of transferable analytical skills, not idiosyncratic factual knowledge," Shanahan explains. "Simply put, you can never be 'wrong' in my classroom. My goal is for every student to understand both why they think the way they do and the logical implications of such thinking.

"I believe the ability to question and explain that which is most taken for granted and seems least in need of explanation is the essence of sociology. My objective as a teacher, adviser, and mentor is to help students both develop this 'sociological imagination' and realize how empowering and, indeed, fun this activity can be.

"I know I have done a good job when a former student drops by my office and provides an impromptu sociological analysis of why people dressed the way they did at the Academy Awards."

 

The Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring, administered by the Graduate School, recognizes graduate faculty members for exceptional mentoring of graduate students.This year there were three winners:

 

Linda George
Professor of sociology

In 1984, George was assigned to mentor postdoctoral fellow Elizabeth "Jody" Clipp. Now a full professor who runs the doctoral program at Duke's nursing school, she hasn't forgotten how effective those sessions were.

"I still go to her when I'm in a corner and have to figure out a solution," Clipp says. "She brings a new perspective, many answers to many questions." Over the course of her career, George has guided hundreds of graduate students, undergraduates, and postdocs. That adds up to thousands of hours of listening, advising, introducing, editing, critiquing, and shoring up. Still, George insists she is the beneficiary.

"I don't think the students realize how much they give me," George says. "I learn from them, too. I describe my students as the one part of my professional life where I get immediate gratification."

 

William Reichert
Professor of biomedical engineering

After receiving tenure at Duke about ten years ago, "Monty" Reichert took a sabbatical at North Carolina Central University, a historically African-American university, in an effort to learn how to boost the number of minority students in the sciences and engineering.

"Diversity and excellence can and should co-exist," he says. "It's one thing to say that and another thing to do that.

I decided to lead by example." Largely because of his recruiting efforts, the number of underrepresented minorities in the B.M.E. program has tripled.

Reichert says he strives to create an open atmosphere in his labs, so that students feel free to collaborate on research, discuss projects, and experiment with new ideas and materials. "The first thing that you've got to do is recognize the value these people bring to the table," he says. "They're very intelligent people [who] have the potential to do great things."

 

Alex Rosenberg
R. Taylor Cole Professor of philosophy

On a recent trip to Paris with a teaching assistant to present a paper they had co-authored, Rosenberg suggested that the student give the presentation. Rosenberg sat in the audience and later advised the student on his delivery.

To Rosenberg, mentoring is more than just providing formal structure and presentation. He sees it as helping students "acquire skills that will make them effective members of the profession."

"I don't need to write more papers, but they do. If I can harness my interests together with theirs to their advantage--not only to have a byline but to work with someone to see what kind of standards you have to impose on yourself and how important it is to persevere, revise and update, and not to be disappointed by rejections--that should be part of their professional education."