Honoring Excellence in the Classroom

August 1, 2004

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:

Christina Askounis

Christina Askounis
Lecturer, University Writing Program
Richard K. Lublin Award, recognizes teachers who engender intellectual excitement, curiosity, and knowledge of their field

Askounis has been teaching essay and fiction writing for seventeen years--courses that few faculty members like to tackle, says a colleague, "because they are so hard to teach, so labor-intensive, both in and outside the classroom." Askounis doesn't necessarily disagree with that characterization but looks at it differently. "I have a sense of students as unopened volumes," she says. "There are all these riches lying in wait that I hope to call forth during the course of the semester through writing."

Alvin Crumbliss

Alvin Crumbliss
Professor of chemistry
David and Janet Vaughn Brooks Award, recognizes teachers excelling in science and mathematics

Chemist Alvin Crumbliss has a winning strategy for helping his undergraduate students conquer Chemistry 23L, Accelerated General Chemistry, which combines two semesters' worth of first-year chemistry into one. The strategy--"putting personality and relevance into a course, without compromising rigor"--begins with getting to know students in their freshman year. Undeterred by class sizes as large as 200, Crumbliss reserves a table at the Faculty Commons each week and gives students the option of joining him for lunch. As many as six students sign up to converse with him about everything--except chemistry.

Says one student, "The cordial relationship Dr. Crumbliss has established with each one of us makes taking a difficult course that much easier."

Michael Munger

Michael Munger
Professor and chair, political science department
Howard D. Johnson Award, recognizes a full professor who inspires respect in the highest traditions of American democracy, free enterprise, and Western civilization

Munger encourages role-playing to get rid of the hierarchy in the classroom. "Role-playing makes it easier for students to criticize and argue, because they're not taking me on, they're taking on some mythical person," he says. "They can say awful things: 'That's stupid! That's wrong!' and they're not arguing with the professor."

"I often enter his office with firm convictions, only to have them carefully and kindly torn to pieces," wrote Kesav Mohan '04, in nominating Munger for the award. "When I finally agree to his viewpoint, he quickly begins to put forth a strong case for my original argument." Students learn their own positions by encountering wrong points of view and having to deal with them, Munger says, a process he calls "collision with error" that sums up his basic teaching philosophy.

Orin Starn

Orin Starn
Associate professor of cultural anthropology
Robert B. Cox Award, recognizes teachers who encourage intellectual excitement in their students and a long-standing commitment to teaching

I actually really remember 'Show and Tell' very well from when I was an elementary- school student," Starn says. "Often I got interested in, or learned something about, a famous figure in American history by somebody bringing in an object or a picture and talking about. So I like to try to do the same thing when I'm teaching."

He gives fly-casting lessons and reads passages from A River Runs Through It in his class "Anthropology and Sports." In other classes, he uses memorable sights, sounds, and "word pictures"--his daughter's Barbie doll collection or an Andean ritual with coca leaves and Quechuan chants--to introduce concepts from cultural anthropology.

Three additional awards are presented to graduate students in Arts and Sciences and fellows at the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Writing. This year's winners are:

 

Gerald DiGiusto
Political science
Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching, recognizes a student who teaches a class or serves as a teaching assistant

Regardless of the class format--seminar or lecture--I want my students to take the lead in where our discussions and studies go," says DiGiusto.

"I choose course readings and topics with an eye toward providing the analytic tools and information necessary to facilitate a broader investigation of world politics both inside and outside of class. In effect, I see my role as that of a tour guide, pointing out interesting landmarks along the way, suggesting alternative destinations, getting everyone involved, and keeping the group on the right path and on schedule."

Rebekah Long
English
Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching

Language is magical. In the open space of the classroom, my students and I scrutinize this platitude to discover how language works upon the world, how its potency inheres in persuasive phrases, in its ability to solicit action, arouse passion, or voice grief. We are moved by words. I share with my students what things words can do--words as poetic form, shared and contested paths to the divine or the dead, political agents in the service of war propaganda. This is the most fundamental aspect of my pedagogical practice."

Derek Malone-France
Writing fellow

Duke University Award for Excellence in Teaching Writing, recognizes a writing fellow who demonstrates exceptional teaching in the University Writing Program

Too often, we are presented with lists--often deceptively short lists--of pithy prescriptions for 'good teaching.' The truth, of course, is that good teaching necessarily defies such formularized neatness and simplicity, precisely because it has little to do with generalities and everything to do with attention to the particularities of specific situations (and students).

"Obviously, it's important to design courses that promote predictable patterns of learning, but, in the end, every class is in some measure sui generis, and every student is a person with a particular history and particular needs. No amount of pre-semester preparation can compare in terms of positive pedagogical effect to time spent during the semester building relationships with (and between) students. This is the often-discussed, but rarely realized, ideal of the 'intellectual community.' "