Teaching Prizes Awarded at Yale College Class Day

Six faculty members were honored as outstanding teachers at Yale College’s Senior Class Day program on May 22.

The faculty members were nominated by undergraduates to receive the Yale College Prizes for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching and the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College. The awards were presented by Peter Salovey, dean of Yale College.

Award citations follow on a separate page.

The Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize for the teacher who “has given the most time, energy and effective effort” to educating undergraduates was presented to Ramamurti Shankar, the John Randolph Huffman Professor of Physics.

The Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching in Yale College was presented to Michael Mahoney, assistant professor of history.

The Sidonie Miskimin Class Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities was presented to Christine Hayes, professor of religious studies.

The Lex Hixon prize for teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences was presented to Brian Scholl, assistant professor of psychology.

The Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences was presented to David Austin, associate professor of chemistry.

The Richard H. Brodhead Prize for Teaching Excellence by a lecturer or lector was presented to Deborah Margolin, adjunct assistant professor of theater studies.

Yale College Teaching Prizes
Class Day, 2005

Ramamurti Shankar
Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Shankar: certain physicists are known to everyone by just one name. Like your illustrious predecessors, Shankar, you too have a gift for elegant explanation. When it comes to measuring the sometimes weird behavior of subatomic particles, you find everyday words to describe phenomena that defy common sense. Lecturing on complex topics without notes, you invite students to talk problems through with you, not just to copy down what you are saying. Even your largest course feels like a seminar, with discussion spilling over out of class. You hold open office hours and, as chair of Physics, have helped to make the department an intellectually and socially hospitable place for undergraduates. Thanks to you, the phrase “Physics Lounge” is no longer, at least at Yale, an oxymoron. For the clarity you bring to abstruse explanation, and the care you offer undergraduates at every level, Yale College is proud to bestow on you the Harwood Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Prize.

Michael Mahoney
Michael Mahoney, Africa has no more passionate explicator than you. Your courses are designed so that they reach out and grab students’ interest. You make them, one–and–all, into Africanists, through your dynamic lectures, meticulously compiled reading lists, primary documents translated from African languages, and through the biographies, novels and films you integrate into your teaching. You are demanding. You challenge students with detailed reading responses you meticulously grade, and with requirements for note cards, outlines and drafts that force them to plan their work well ahead. You spend hours reviewing their essays, inspire them to think across disciplines, goad them to international travel, advise them on future course choices, and take a deep interest in their lives and their careers. For investing your students in your own love for Africa, as well as for the time and devotion you lavish on them, Yale is pleased and proud to award you the Sarai Ribicoff Award.

Christine Hayes
Chris Hayes, your courses attract not only students with an interest in Religious Studies, but others who, lured by your reputation, enter intimidated and uncertain, and leave alive to the splendors of the Hebrew Bible and Judaic literature. Your lectures are so galvanizing that, as one student says, 50 minutes seems like 15, and so well organized that, as another student says, her notebook reads like a textbook. Your erudition leaves your students in awe. But you are so filled with care for their intellectual and personal welfare that they learn to love you as well as your courses. You teach the Rabbis. But your students suggest that to them you yourself are a Rabbi, one of the illuminati perfectly suited to transmit to the next generation the beauty and fascination of ancient texts. For your Rabbinical gifts, and for making your students the luckiest of Yale’s “chosen peoples,” Yale College proudly awards you the Sidonie Miskimin Prize.

Brian Scholl
Brian Scholl, no one dozes in your class. Cognitive Science is your discipline, and alert as you are to the brain’s workings, you use every imaginable device to quicken, excite and hold your students’ interest. Your beautifully clear and illuminating lectures, which can be followed through a set of lucid power points, are studded with relevant interactive experiments, video clips, and props—(such as 3–D glasses and champagne bottle tops— that relate your explanations to everyday life. But your energetic explanations and brilliant showmanship always illuminate the heart of your complex material and never overshadow it. “All thought, little regurgitation” is the way one student explained your courses. Yale delights in honoring a teacher who, as a scholar of perception, leaves no shadow of doubt about how his own students will perceive him.

David Austin
David Austin, The two words “Organic Chemistry” can strike cold fear into the heart of the smartest freshman Yalie. Yet when you teach it, a subject matter that can terrify often becomes the gateway to a lasting love for Chemistry. Titration proves that you are the reagent causing the chemical reaction in your students. “ Inspiring,” “illuminating” even “entertaining”—these are the phrases your students use when speaking of the teaching that challenges and exhilarates them. At the upper level students are in awe of your abilities as well. They call you “the hardest working person at Yale”—quite a statement!—and are thunderstruck at your infectious enthusiasm, your capacity to make time for everyone and the welcoming way you treat everyone in your lab. For your catalytic ability to make students love what they study, and want to study it the more, Yale gratefully bestows upon you the Dylan Hixon Prize.

Deborah Margolin
Deb Margolin, Playwriting and Performance are your trades, and you profess them as you ply them—with art. You have the knack of creating a community in every class, one in which you liberate your students to discover who they are and what matters to them, and to risk new ways of articulating and dramatizing it. After class hours students e–mail, phone, and wait in long lines to speak to you, and you patiently give every one exactly the advice he or she needs, going to lengths to see to the heart of their issues. If your students were writing about you using the automatic writing you require of them, there is no doubt that words such as “empowering” and “life altering” would flow from their pens. For your profound commitment to your art, your genius at sharing it with others, and for your generous spirit, Yale delights in awarding you the Richard H. Brodhead Prize.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325