Mbaye Lo, a lecturer in Arabic, has been chosen as the winner of this year's Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award (ADUTA). A native of Senegal, he has been teaching in both the Duke Islamic Studies Center and the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies since the fall of 2006.
Lo, who is known for sprinkling witticisms into lectures and for his attention to guiding students outside the classroom, has something of a fan following on campus. In one essay nominating him for the award, a student wrote of classmates cataloguing Lo's many bon mots and posting them on a Facebook page. She also recounted Lo's organizing biweekly lunches at campus eateries and monthly dinners at Middle Eastern restaurants.
Another student wrote that even though he completed Lo's class two years ago, the professor still "encourages me to stop by his office, and I frequently visit him to discuss my academic plans."
"The most remarkable characteristic of this professor is his commitment to his students and the time and energy he gives to provide them with opportunities to grow intellectually and individually," the student wrote.
The ADUTA is the only teaching award at Duke bestowed entirely by students. Undergraduates are invited to submit nominating essays to a board of fellow students chosen at random by the registrar. The board then meets to select a winner. This year, thirty-six professors were nominated.
Lo's scholarly interests lie in classical Arabic literature and language. He completed his postgraduate studies at the International University of Africa, in Khartoum, Sudan, and at Khartoum International Institute for Arabic Language. He later earned a Ph.D. from the Levin College of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University.
Lo incorporates elements of Arabic culture and other tidbits from his studies into his introductory Arabic course. Students say these are among the ways he holds their interest and makes the subject less daunting for those new to the language.
Naturally, any student of a language improves more quickly by living and studying where the language is spoken. Last year, Lo created just such an opportunity for his students under the aegis of DukeEngage. His students went to Cairo, where they established an intensive English-language summer program for a group of twenty-one refugees from Somalia, most of them illiterate girls, and organized a women's empowerment workshop.
The students also created a reading room with materials on American society and culture at Ar-Resalah, a grassroots NGO that supports orphans and disabled people in Cairo, and hosted a lecture at Cairo University on U.S.-Arab relations.
This summer, Lo is leading a new group of DukeEngage students in Cairo.