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 21.

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:

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 William Summers, professor of therapeutic radiology and molecular biophysics and biochemistry.

The Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching in Yale College was presented to Troy Cross, assistant professor of philosophy.

The Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities was presented to Vladimir Alexandrov, the B. E. Bensinger Professor and chair of the Slavic languages and literature department.

The Lex Hixon Prize for teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences was presented to Benjamin Polak, professor of economics, Cowles Foundation, School of Management and Institute for Social and Policy Studies.

The Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences was presented to Mitch Smooke, the Strathcona Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics.

The Richard H. Brodhead Prize for Teaching Excellence by a lecturer or lector was presented to Maria Crocetti, senior lector of Spanish/Portuguese and director of the Language Program.

Yale College Teaching Prizes
Class Day, 2006

William Summers
The Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize

Bill Summers, you are a therapeutic radiologist by profession, but your students marvel at the breadth of your learning. They say your classes can move from genetic engineering to the biological roots of drug addiction, from the subject of “perfect pitch” to sleep cycles, from epidemics to modern historiography with nary a pause, while you display equal sums of encyclopedic knowledge about it all. In addition to your wide learning you are pedagogically generous: students were stunned when far too many showed up for your seminar and you offered to teach three sections to accommodate as many of them as possible. Best of all, your students say you inspire them to love science by engaging their intellects and imaginations and illuminating for them nature’s inner workings. For your generous teaching, and your capacity to make your students see and feel the wonders of science, Yale College gratefully awards you the Byrne’s-Sewall Prize.

Troy Cross
Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching in Yale College

Troy Cross, your subject is philosophy, but what you really teach is a way of thinking, a habit of mind. Instead of expecting your students to learn and repeat what others say, you teach them to think and write like philosophers themselves. You do this partly through the Socratic method, which you employ to good effect in even your large lecture courses. But you also seem to know precisely where questions should stop and explanations begin, and when you do explain, you do it with a logic and a clarity that perfectly models the character and caliber of thinking you profess. Your teaching does not end at the classroom door: In your office hours, in chance meetings on the street and over pizza at Naples, you inculcate in your students the idea that Philosophy isn’t merely an academic subject, but a way of life. For teaching what the Greek root of the word Philosophy literally means—the love of wisdom—Yale College proudly and happily bestows on you the Sarai Ribicoff Award.

Vladimir Alexandrov
Sidonie Miskimin Class Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities

Vladimir Alexandrov, you teach Russian literature, and your students, when they elect your course, know that the work will not be light. Yet they flock to your class in numbers, not only for the wonderful reading, or for your profound knowledge of your subject, but for the clarity and passion of your lectures, and for your utter devotion to the craft of teaching. When 45 aspirants showed up in your seminar on Nabokov, you admitted them all, and ran the class as if it still were a small seminar, questioning your students and asking them to challenge your views and suggest their own. You invite your class to teas, and are the only faculty member anyone has ever heard of who “literally begs more students to come to his office hours.” One student wrote of you: “I don’t know a single person who does not love his classes.” We don’t either, and believing that your students will always bask in the “Pale Fire” of your glow, proudly and gratefully award you the Sidonie Miskimin Class Prize.

Benjamin Polak
Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences

Game Theory Problem: Two Yale roommates want to take the same course, so they can benefit from arguing and discussing concepts together late into the night. But each student needs to find a course that the other student will find interesting, challenging and fun at the same time. Given the more than 1600 courses offered in the Yale bluebook, is there a single course that will achieve the Nash equilibrium for the pair of roommates?

The answer is easy! Ben Polak’s Game Theory, of course! Ben Polak, your class is the best kind of game, where you motivate your students with humor, brilliant jokes and galvanizing examples. Your innovative lectures, in which you never repeat the readings, are cleverly crafted to convey your subject while teaching students to think for themselves. Student evaluations of your class mark the first time we have heard problem sets called “scintillating,” or tests and exams deemed “intimidating but wonderfully rewarding.” Because you yourself play the best kind of game — one where every student is a winner — we think you are a winner too — and thus we proudly and gratefully award you the Lex Hixon Prize.

Mitch Smooke
Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences

Mitch Smooke, the phrases “differential equations” and “fluid mechanics” can throw shivers of fear into the smartest Engineering major. Yet according to your students, your classes in both subjects are among their favorites.  Part of your success is your understanding that abstruse mathematics can often be taught well through pragmatic example: It is typical of you that you used the occasion of the flooding of your own basement to teach hydrostatics. To make your students understand context, you interweave historical background of engineering studies and anecdotes about the life of scientists with video clips and pictures. Your enthusiasm and energy are matched only by your approachability, your interest in your students, and your encouragement of them in their lives and scientific careers. For making your students “changed particles” captured by the Smooke planet’s magnetic field, we happily and gratefully award you the Dylan Hixon Prize.

Maria Crocetti
The Richard H. Brodhead Prize for Teaching Excellence by a Non-Ladder Faculty Member

Maria Crocetti, your courses are like tortilla chips: students can’t seem to take just one of them! Perhaps this is because your classroom is its own Spanish-speaking country, where students can hear Spanish poetry, watch Spanish films and videos, read Spanish drama and even produce their own Spanish plays. Your lessons are innovative, organized and well planned, full of interesting and probing questions and spiced with such variety and creative invention that no one is ever bored. As a result of your vitality and imagination, your students learn without realizing it, and have become not just speakers of Spanish but devoted citizens of the Spanish-speaking realm. For the many students you have initiated into the splendors of Spanish over the years, we have only one thing to say to you as we award you the Richard H. Brodhead Prize — and that is: Maria Crocetti, Ole!

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345