Faculty members are honored for their inspiring undergraduate teaching

Six members of the faculty were honored with awards for outstanding undergraduate teaching at a campus ceremony on April 29.

The teachers were nominated by their students for the awards, which were presented by Yale College Dean Mary Miller. The Teaching, Learning, and Advising Committee selected the winners from among the nominees. See interviews with the prizewinners.

At the ceremony — attended by many students as well as the teachers’ colleagues and family members — Miller noted that in a time when there is much public discussion about online learning, the students’ commentary about their teachers is a reminder of the difference it makes having a teacher present in the classroom.

The winning teachers — and Miller’s citations, in part, for each — follow:

Jean-Christophe Agnew, professor of American studies and history — the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss ’75 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities: “Your students hail your lectures as ‘masterpieces’ and describe them as a ‘complex tapestry.’ You tie together themes ‘in wholly unexpected and fascinating ways,’ exploring ‘everything from Pokémon to Levittown,’ referencing history, anthropology, and economics, ‘then reining in the discussion, succinctly making sense of it all by the end.’ In the process, your students say, you ‘resuscitate with mind-boggling animation …. moments in history that had previously felt sealed off in time, too far away to come alive.’”

Joseph Chang, professor of statistics — the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences: “For some 25 years, students have appreciated your pedagogical talents of making ‘the technical and abstruse appear simple and understandable, and fun!’ They say that you have the ‘gift of being able to explain hard ideas and technical material in a way that seems effortless but is actually the result of painstaking preparation.’ And they admire you for being able ‘to make a complicated principle appear obvious by choosing just the right example and giving it just the right emphasis.’ But as much as your students praise your teaching in the classroom, they also praise your role as a teacher outside of class, calling you again and again ‘easy to meet with,’ ‘patient,’ and, above all, ‘dedicated.’

Paul Grimstad, assistant professor of English — the Sarai Ribicoff ’75 Award for Teaching Excellence in Yale College: “Your students repeatedly describe you as ‘passionate,’ ‘enthusiastic,’ and ‘energetic.’ One of them calls you “the most engaged and passionate professor I’ve had in my four years at Yale.” Another remembers how you ‘painted a picture of Edgar Allen Poe’ that made your students feel that they had ‘lived in Poe’s time and known him as a close friend, bringing his stories to life and making [your] students believe in the power of storytelling.’ Another sums up your teaching by saying, ‘He made the class thrilling.’”

Alfred Guy, lecturer in English — the Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize for Teaching Excellence by a Non-Ladder Faculty Member: “Your students adore you, for your energy, for your dedication, and for your good humor. They praise you for creating ‘the space for a meaningful conversation in which every member of the class can participate’; they rave about your ‘incredible creativity and versatility’; and they thank you for challenging their ‘notions of human identity and human nature’ through science fiction. At the core of every lesson is your love of writing. As one of your students explains, ‘Anyone who takes a class with [him] knows that his animation and passion for writing play out into one of the most exciting, captivating, and thought-provoking human discussions you will ever have.’ Another one of your students puts it this way: ‘This man lives for teaching, and it shows.’”

Asaf Hadari, Gibbs Assistant Professor of Mathematics — the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Your students say of you that you ‘clearly live math.’ They describe your ‘excitement to complete a proof’ as ‘contagious’; your lectures as ‘fast-paced, and exciting’; and the time you make for your students outside of the classroom as ‘invaluable.’ One student calls you a ‘phenomenal lecturer and brilliant mathematician’; another says — and here I quote — that you ‘tackle daunting proofs with ease and meticulously deobfuscate theorems.’ A third student, seemingly a future mathematician, exclaims: ‘Professor Hadari is everything one could hope for in a math teacher, to the nth degree.’”

Margaret Homans, professor of English and of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies — the Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize: “For over 35 years, you have provided grateful students with groundbreaking perspectives on literature. One of your students praises your ‘deftness and subtlety’ in grasping the trajectory of ideas and thinkers, the ‘richness of [your] analysis,’ and your ‘gentle hand’ in guiding your students. Another one lauds you for your earnest desire ‘to hear [your] students’ thoughts,’ your ‘positive and constructive commentary,’ and your ability to create ‘an environment in which all students freely and regularly join in the discussion.’”

More detailed profiles of the winning teachers will appear in the future in YaleNews.