Six faculty members honored for ‘transformational’ classroom instruction
Students who nominated the six Yale faculty members awarded this year’s Yale College teaching prizes on May 5 used many different adjectives to praise their instructors. But there was one overarching theme in their comments: All of the prizewinners were credited with being “transformational” in their students’ lives — in the classroom and beyond.
The prize-winning teachers are Stephanie Newell, who won the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for teaching excellence in the humanities; Marla Geha, who was presented the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for teaching excellence in the natural sciences; Woo-kyoung Ahn, who won the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for teaching excellence in the social sciences; Karin Roffman and Quan Tran, who were both awarded the Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize for teaching excellence by non-ladder faculty; and Kenneth Winkler, who was honored with the Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize, given to a faculty member who “over a long period of service has inspired a great number of students and consistently fostered the learning process both inside and outside the classroom.”
In a ceremony held in the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun read the nominating students’ words of praise as he recognized each award winner. The full citations follow.
Stephanie Newell, the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize
“Stephanie Newell, professor of English and interim chair, Council on African Studies, your students are dazzled by your ability to challenge them, intellectually and compassionately. You draw out and elevate students reluctant to speak up in other courses, pushing them to dig deeper as they progress through the course material.
“You are known for providing helpful, consistent, and constructive feedback and are constantly modifying your course materials in creative and innovative ways, ensuring that your students are engaged in the classroom. Your students are often surprised by how passionate they become as a result of your guidance, enjoying the process of delving into course material, particularly when reading and analyzing texts.
“One student, writing about your teaching, said: ‘She has a way of urging students to keep taking one step further with any argument they’re making. She does so in a way that makes students feel like they’re partnering with her on their intellectual journey…’ Another said: ‘Her feedback — simultaneously uplifting and challenging — strikes the perfect balance.’
“Still another said, ‘She demands intellectual rigor and challenge from all of her students, but perhaps more significantly, requires passion, and wants us to investigate what we’re most interested in. Her seminars are the most lively I’ve ever been in, because everyone is hungering for more. She more than matches us with her own passion, intellect, and infectious laughter, which was the highlight of every Tuesday.’
“The classroom environment you generate in each of your courses is nurturing and challenging while being sensitive to the ‘very painful histories and memories’ covered in some of your courses. Another student had this to say: ‘Professor Newell fostered an amazing classroom environment and was honestly the one professor who has helped me grow as a student the most. Before Professor Newell’s course, I did not speak up in class, and did not engage with my course material. Her class changed all of that. I found myself engrossed in the material, but also welcomed by the classroom environment she created. I spoke up multiple times per class, and often left the classroom with more questions.’”
Marla Geha, the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize
“Marla Geha, professor of astronomy and physics, your students praise your ability to give each student a set of transferable skills that will help them during their academic and professional careers. You have transformed the curriculum in astronomy, intentionally and innovatively.
“Numerous students have shared their excitement after completing research methods courses with you. One said: ‘After her course, I know I am a better coder, collaborator, scientist, and even writer, as she makes sure never to neglect any skill that will be useful to us as scientists and humans.’ Another said, eloquently and succinctly, ‘So often there is a bifurcation between caring about research and caring about instruction. Prof. Geha bridges this gap.’
“You recognize the skills that will be helpful to both advanced and novice astrophysics students. Your students recognize the efforts you make to ensure that students understand what you want them to learn, while giving them space and freedom to explore their interests. As one student described, you give your students ‘the perfect balance of structure and freedom to explore ideas and hypotheses we would not have access to otherwise.’
“In person or in the virtual format, your students outside of the major have praised your ability to make course material engaging and accessible. One student shared: ‘She seemed genuinely excited to be able to share her love of the field and all its interesting quirks with us. She is the perfect professor to welcome someone to Yale, and she is also the perfect professor to have had for my last ever class as a Yale undergrad. I will certainly be following her work in the future, and I am so grateful for the reminders she has given me of what it is to learn something because it is genuinely interesting. Like all great mentors, Prof. Geha has encouraged me to look forward and inward, but unlike most, she has also reminded me to look up.’”
Woo-kyoung Ahn, the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize
“Woo-kyoung Ahn, the John Hay Whitney Professor of Psychology, your students speak highly of the care and the effort you put in their learning, whether in a large lecture course or one-on-one during your office hours.
“You have a way of making a 500-student lecture course feel accessible, with the way you interact with your students, but also in the way you mentor your teaching fellows to be exceptional teachers as well. You have transformed teaching of research methods, ensuring that students are excited about their learning, while gaining transferable skills. This took great effort and care on your part, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Your students and colleagues marvel at your continued ability to provide individual support to scores of students. It’s truly remarkable.
“One of your students stressed how much they learned from you during office hours, ‘…each time walking away with a deeper understanding of course material, suggestions for further exploration, and having had a great conversation. However, it was at these office hours when I was able to ask more questions about the lectures that I realized how much work that Professor Ahn put into every class.’
“Your students are lavish in praising your devotion to teaching and your skill as an educator. From first-year students to second-semester seniors, they note how you instill in them the value of hard work, academic rigor, and intellectual curiosity. One student described your classes by saying they ‘left me riveted and engaged with the content. I did not miss a single class because missing [one] felt like missing a once-in-a-lifetime performance.’ Another said, ‘… without a doubt, Professor Ahn remains in my mind the professor who has poured in the most time and effort into teaching her undergraduates.’ Still another said, ‘I will forever be grateful to Professor Ahn for what she has done for me and what she has taught me.’ Yet another summed up by saying, ‘I have had, throughout my time at Yale, many professors who I would deem to be […] good teachers. But few have managed to reach me in such a profound and lasting way.’”
Karin Roffman, the Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize
“Karin Roffman, senior lecturer in humanities, English and American studies and associate director of Public Humanities, your students find your courses to be ‘life- changing experiences’ and they are ‘astounded by the creativity’ of your lesson plans.
“You have a way of inspiring students in many ways, from the individualized attention you provide in office hours and through careful feedback on assignments to the exposure to texts, artifacts, and tangible materials that inspire your students to think deeply about what they are learning in your courses.
“One student shared about your teaching style and carefully thought-out class sessions: ‘She knew when to encourage our line of discussion, when to counter or complicate our points, and when to change directions. She also knew every text inside-out. I will never forget her marble notebooks packed with notes on each reading systematically organized by page number. It was clear that she brought the same boundless energy to preparing for each class as she did to class itself. Her dedication inspired me to read with care and energy in a way no other teacher has inspired me.’
“Others talked about the wonderful field trips you would organize: ‘She helped us understand our readings on a more visceral level, linking the writers’ houses we visited to history and memory and artistry, and fostering an incredibly close intellectual community within our small group of students. And, as a senior who had never done archival research in the Beinecke before, she even opened my eyes to the importance of holding artifacts in your hands; the power of objects as tools for understanding the past; and the nitty gritty of finding research materials you seek.’ Another said: ‘We left every class gaping at each other and wishing, literally asking each other in the hall, “What IS this class?” and “Is this real? How lucky are we??” … we were astounded because the syllabus was innovative and tremendously effective for getting us thinking about important, hard questions.’”
Quan Tran, the Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize
“Quan Tran, senior lecturer in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration (ER&M) and American studies, your students marvel at your ability to weave individuals into a curious community in your classroom. The individual attention you provide to students, whether they are enrolled in your courses or pursuing the senior essay in ER&M, is recognized as key to the success of each individual student and to the department overall. They appreciate that you care about their learning, their overall success and their well-being, all at once.
“Your classroom community consistently receives high praise. One student said that you ‘created a space where our age differences, identity differences, and academic differences became, rather than disparities, assets of discussion. She enabled us to see our full agency in the classroom, in addition to a thorough understanding of the privileges of Asian diasporic subjects in undefined territories. We all left this class with what we had wanted to learn, and then more … a community of curiosity and celebration.’
“Seniors have appreciated the guidance and structure you have provided for their senior theses. ‘She helped over 30 ER&M seniors find a senior essay director, focus our projects, and create a research and writing plan. Even beyond the seminar, she organized weekly writing study halls in the ER&M department in which all the seniors can stop in to write during that time and ask her any questions that may come up during the writing process. This is going above and beyond what is required of her.’
“Students have found the level of engagement in your courses to be remarkable, whether they are taught in person or virtually. One student shared: ‘She also weaved in engaging events and invited amazing guest speakers to supplement the course material. Despite having class through Zoom, Professor Tran’s seminar is one of my favorite courses I have taken at Yale.’”
Kenneth Winkler, the Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize
“Since joining Yale’s faculty in 2006, Kenneth Winkler, the Kingman Brewster Jr. Professor of Philosophy and acting chair of Philosophy, you have taught hundreds of students who are thankful for your encouragement and support of their learning. They have praised your ability to make lectures feel like a seminar, where you know their faces and names and put ‘students first,’ modifying your lecture material regularly and creatively to the students in attendance.
“Your students appreciate your commitment to their learning, particularly at this stage of your career. One student shared that you are ‘an example of someone who, thanks to the security of his position, doesn’t need to be a good teacher in order to keep his job — but he is an exceptional one anyway.’
“You have a way of shifting students away from thinking about their grades and instead on their learning, whether they are first-years in Directed Studies or upper-level students in your other courses. Your supportive style has been described by numerous students. One shared about your welcoming nature: ‘He wanted me to be there, in that class, and he wanted me to learn and succeed. He gave me confidence, and that stirred up my passion for the subject. He seemed to tell me that it is okay to fail, as long as you continue to try.’
“Another shared that they were lucky to have you as a section leader as well as their professor. ‘When he could not find enough teaching fellows to accommodate the number of students interested in the course, he decided he would teach a section rather than turning students away from the class.’
“Some students have taken a large lecture course with you, some have been in smaller courses in Directed Studies and others have benefitted immensely from your mentorship for their senior essays. What is consistent across your teaching and mentorship is your generosity, which extends beyond the classroom, your warmth, and your ability to challenge students in thoughtful and creative ways. You have continued to modify and hone your teaching style over the years and have been consistently exceptional in generating a welcoming learning environment for your students.”