Six faculty members honored for inspired teaching
The six recipients of this year’s Yale College prizes for exceptional undergraduate teaching, announced on May 3 by Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis, stand out for a wide variety of reasons to the students who nominated them.
One, for example, came to class on Halloween dressed up as a skeleton, and sang opera. Another made his students feel they could “take on the world.” Yet another created such a warm classroom environment that it became a learning community where lifetime friendships were forged.
The prizewinning teachers, all from Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, are Marci Shore, associate professor of history; Nilay Hazari, the John Randolph Hoffman Professor of Chemistry; Rourke O’Brien, associate professor of sociology; Evangelia Chalioti, senior lecturer and associate chair in the Department of Economics; Matsuku Ngame, senior lector in French; and John Carlson, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology.
What they all share in common, Lewis said during a ceremony at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, is a deep commitment to undergraduate education. All of them, Lewis said, put immense “effort, energy, and imagination” into their teaching and leave their students feeling both inspired and transformed.
The citations for the prizewinners follow.
Marci Shore, the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize
Awarded for teaching excellence in the humanities
“Marci Shore, associate professor of history, your students have found your courses to be ‘life-changing’ and ‘riveting,’ changing the way they look at the world around them, and leaving them wanting to learn more. They are astounded by your ability to probe dense philosophical texts, weave together the ideas of great thinkers, and help students learn the material in an interactive and accessible way.
“One student says of you: ‘Marci Shore is a genius. I don’t use that word lightly. The deftness with which she understands some of the densest philosophical texts in history is deeply inspiring. She also grasps, in a way so few people do, the grand arcs of history.’
“You awaken in your students a love of ideas and guide them in the best ways to express their own — in writing and in seminar conversation. Another one of your students says, ‘She teaches you not only the major ideas that have shaped our world, but how they came into being, why they were so attractive at the time, and how they relate to each other. Most of all, she teaches you how to think for yourself … she left me with teachings that I will undoubtedly carry with me for the rest of my life.’
“Students admire you for your gift for pedagogy, and for your ability to explain the ‘human side of intellectual history’ side-by-side with the abstract. You somehow do this in a short period of time, too, says one student: ‘In 50 minutes, she was able to capture the essence of a thinker’s work, along with the way that history shaped his or her thought, and the way that that thought shaped history.’ Another says, ‘Her students walked out of her class with a remarkable feeling of intimacy with a thinker who had been entirely foreign less than an hour ago, and a feeling of excitement about a set of radically new ideas and novel, thrilling ways of viewing our world, its history, and the people in it.’
“For your engagement with students and your devotion to teaching, Yale College proudly awards the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss ‘75 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities to you, Professor Marci Shore.”
Nilay Hazari, the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize
Awarded for teaching excellence in the natural sciences
“Nilay Hazari, the John Randolph Huffman Professor of Chemistry, you have been recognized for your pedagogical innovations in upper-level courses but have become best known as many STEM students’ first professor in the natural sciences at Yale, through ‘Gen Chem.’ Your students are delighted to obtain a strong foundation from you for the rest of their Yale career in the sciences.
“They speak of your ability to make a 300-person lecture feel accessible, where students call you by your first name and you call them by theirs. Your weekly group lunches make your students feel that they have your full attention, where they are ‘your priority.’ During office hours, you encourage and foster collaboration among your students. And your demos, music and other in-class activities have become legendary.
“One student says it well by asking: ‘How many other Yale professors entered the lecture hall on Halloween day singing opera and dressed up as a skeleton? How many Yale professors give a student a few minutes at the end of class to share a chemistry-related hobby in front of the class? Probably not many.’
“In your lecture hall, you have a way of instilling curiosity, wonder, and joy. Your students enjoy asking questions, but sometimes the question is ‘Why do we have to know this?’ You take the time to answer that question before it even comes up, giving students real-world examples and analogies to help them understand the concepts they are learning. One student reports, ‘From a “buy one get one deal” to explain the Born-Haber process to a bird’s wings to explain IR active compounds, his analogies to the real world expedited the learning process.’ Another says, ‘From changing flame colors to making liquid nitrogen ice cream for us to eat, it was amazing to see how many students would join his class just to watch and admire his way of teaching.’
“Your students appreciate the effort you put in every day to make the material interesting and engaging. One student says, ‘It would have been remarkably easy to do the bare minimum in that lecture; after all, most students taking the course were taking it as a pre-req and may not have much passion for chemistry. Yet, Nilay came to class every day with the goal of fostering that passion in students by making lectures entertaining and something to anticipate each week.’
“For your creativity and accessibility, and for the care you show for your students, Yale College is delighted to bestow the Dylan Hixon ‘88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences on you, Professor Nilay Hazari.”
Rourke O’Brien, the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize
Awarded for teaching excellence in the social sciences
“Rourke O’Brien, associate professor of sociology, your students speak of your energy, encouragement and mentorship. In your classroom, you foster collaboration and encourage participation, and you leave your students feeling that they can ‘take on the world.’
“Many students speak of the ways your Zoom classroom was a light during the darkness of the pandemic. Encouraging students to share their joys and speak of gratitude had a tremendous and positive impact on them. For many of them, that environment led to deeper engagement, learning, and openness when they were sharing their ideas.
“One student says, ‘Let us all admit this: it is an enormous task to hold the attention of college students. It is a nearly impossible task to do so over Zoom. Any professor who manages to do so is a hero and deserves an award. But on Monday afternoons in our “Poverty and Social Welfare” seminar, Prof. O’Brien didn’t just hold our attention. He enlivened us. He challenged us. In my final, and wholly virtual, semester at Yale, he made me remember why I love this place.’
“Your pedagogical approaches have been creative, and they have made a deep impact on your students. While they study various social programs, they are also learning common themes among them. Your efforts to foster collaboration, with student discussion leaders and interactive documents populated by students during class, have led to deep learning and engagement with the material, and sometimes, with what is happening nationally. One student says, ‘As the Biden administration was working on significant policies during the pandemic, he integrated them into our discussions. This was amazing because we felt up-to-date on policy conversations, and it was also empowering because it showed us that it’s possible to change massive welfare programs. Seeing reforms we discussed in class being proposed and passed was awesome. Although no legislation was passed by our class, our conversations felt very real.’ Another student says, ‘I never thought I’d see so many college students so absolutely invested in the nitty-gritty details of tax policy.’
“Your ability to mentor from the ‘ground up’ is notable as well. One student says, ‘He is so real as well: he shows us both the ups and downs of the day to day — the paper rejections and the paper acceptances, the idea-filled days and the slower days. He isn’t “unattainable” — he makes us feel like academia, like knowledge production, is for all of us.’
“For your transformative and inspiring teaching, Yale College is proud to award the Lex Hixon ‘63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences to you, Professor Rourke O’Brien.”
Evangelia Chalioti, the Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize
Awarded for teaching excellence by instructional faculty
“Evangelia Chalioti, senior lecturer and associate chair in the Department of Economics, your students appreciate your meticulous approach to teaching difficult economics courses with remarkable clarity. Your seminars are engaging, and you have often taught them alongside the large ‘Intermediate Microeconomics’ lecture course, foundational to the hundreds of students completing the economics major.
“Your students marvel at your capacity to incorporate their regular feedback even though they call you ‘flawless,’, ‘organized,’ ‘engaging,’ ‘incredible,’ ‘wise,’ and the list goes on. Your students also say, again and again, that your courses are hard, but that you reward their hard work and engagement in a way that inspires them to work even harder. One student says, ‘She can break down the most complex economic theory into digestible steps, she engages students with relatable empirical examples, and more than anything it is clear that she cares about her students and wants them to succeed.’ Your students speak of your patience and clarity in office hours, along with your encouragement of peer collaboration, particularly when working through sample problems.
“Students who are looking for practical skills along with a foundational and theoretical knowledge base appreciate your pedagogical innovations and assessments. One student appreciates how you ‘coupled [their] academic learning with practical skills in strategy, market research and consulting.’ Another says, ‘In addition to the standard problem set and exam model, she introduced group presentations and an industry analysis memo. These more unique assignments are incredibly relevant to what is expected in the world outside of academics.’
“Students find your courses fun and interesting, and they appreciate when you weave in examples to which they can relate. One student says, ‘When discussing the economics of innovation, she provided examples from competition between Windows and Apple, and when discussing the theory of networks she brought in discussions of Facebook and Snapchat. She knows what kind of empirical examples students can relate to, and she draws them in to bring to life complex theoretical models.’ Others speak of how you shared your research in courses, making the material they were learning more meaningful and interesting.
“For your gifts as an educator and for inspiring your students, Yale College is honored to award the Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize for Teaching Excellence to you, Evangelia Chalioti.”
Matuku Ngame, the Richard Brodhead ’68 Prize
Awarded for teaching excellence by instructional faculty
“Matuku Ngame, senior lector in French, your students follow you through their French language experience, saying that ‘learning under [you] feels like exploration, not work.’ Students are grateful for your skills as an instructor where you balance rigor with ‘sheer elation of watching your students learn.’
“Your students also appreciate the laughter in your classroom. ‘He has an excellent sense of humor and a phenomenal amount of patience, which have never failed to prevent me from feeling frustrated when I cannot understand a vocabulary word or grammar concept.’
“You have created an environment where students feel relaxed and encouraged but nevertheless appreciate the meticulousness and challenge you bring to learning French. According to your students, you often take the time to ‘fully re-explain whatever was queried to the entire class, which removes the element of embarrassment or isolation a student might feel when asking a question.’ And many students speak of your open-door office hours, when your students have found sanctuary in your endless hours of additional support. One student says, ‘I was overcome by Ngame’s willingness not only to help me, but to devise a plan that was appropriate to my weaknesses and needs as a student.’ Another says, ‘I have never encountered a language teacher with his ability to explain basic concepts. Professor Ngame rarely finds it necessary to break into English, since he is so closely attuned to the level of the class that he can choose the appropriate words to express nearly anything in a manner that the entire class can understand. With his background in linguistics, he can turn boring vocabulary acquisition into an opportunity to understand the mechanics and history of the French language.’
“One last student says that ‘because of the positive and interactive environment which Ngame promotes and inspires,’ your classroom becomes a community where lifetime friendships are forged.
“For instilling a love of learning through your skill as an educator, Yale College is honored to award the Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize for Teaching Excellence to you, Matuku Ngame.”
John Carlson, the Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize
Awarded to any 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
“Since joining Yale’s faculty in 1985, John Carlson, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, you have taught thousands of students who are thankful for your encouragement and support of their learning.
“Recognized in 1998 with the Dylan Hixon Prize for your teaching excellence, you have continued to foster an approachable learning environment, primarily teaching large lecture courses in the biological sciences to non-majors. ‘Biology, the World and Us’ has been taken by countless students who have been dazzled by your ability to engage a diverse audience with your thoughtful approach to teaching the scientific basis of current issues.
“Your teaching has been innovative and collaborative, and one student says of it, ‘I appreciated his excitement, humor and engagement even at a class that is clearly targeted at non-science majors. […] I wouldn’t have walked all the way up Science Hill to go to office hours for any other professor! Overall, the part of the course that he taught was surprisingly interesting and I came away with way more knowledge of the subject than I expected.’ Another student says of your teaching, ‘…it has kept my passion alive.’
“You serve as a mentor and resource to students, who see you as accessible and approachable. One student says, ‘In a time known as the “sophomore slump,” in a time of emotional stress and despair, when identities are questioned and academics become unbearably challenging — in a time of trial, a time of questioning, and a time of change — a glimmer of light appeared. I was questioning everything. Do I stay on the premed track? Is science right for me? Why am I doing this? How will I survive? Caught in a tumultuous storm of indecision and strife, I went to office hours for John Carlson. I just had a few questions regarding the course, but these turned into a discussion of biology, passion for careers, and life. Wordiness and adjectives aside, Professor Carlson cares about his students, is passionate about teaching, and treats us a real human beings. His style of teaching is engaging, lively, and exiting. Most of all, he is the first CLEAR science teacher I have had. I never wanted to miss a class. I actually enjoyed class. I walked away from class feeling passionate about what we were learning. I laughed so much in his class, learned so much in his class, and actually enjoyed taking the midterm (what IS this?!?), and was inspired.’
“For your dedication to your students, and for your many years of outstanding teaching, Yale College is proud to award the 2018 Harwood F. Byrnes / Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize to you, Professor John Carlson.”