College recognizes outstanding teaching with Quantrell Awards, Booth Prizes

The College honored the 2014 recipients of the prestigious Quantrell Awards and Booth Prizes at a May 28 reception, in which five faculty members and four graduate students were recognized for their devotion to teaching undergraduates.

More than 300 faculty members have received the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching since their establishment in 1938. Considered to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching, the Quantrell Awards are, in the words of John W. Boyer, dean of the College, “one of the highest honors that the University can bestow on a member of our faculty.” The awards are based on letters of nomination from College students. Winners of the Quantrells will receive their official awards from President Robert J. Zimmer at the College diploma ceremony on June 14.

The Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prizes for Excellence in Teaching, established in 1991, recognize excellent teaching of undergraduates by graduate students. College students and faculty members nominate the recipients.

At the May 28 ceremony, Boyer traced the importance of teaching in the College, and described the mission of former Trustee Ernest Quantrell. Boyer noted that although Quantrell was “a staunch citizen of the entire university,” his “first love was the undergraduate College, and his most insistent belief was that the University should do more to improve the interactions between faculty and College students, and to reward faculty for particularly inspiring undergraduate  teaching.”

Though the Booth Prizes are a more recent honor, they serve the important function of helping graduate students succeed “in their future roles as educators and as teachers,” Boyer said.

“In acknowledging the importance of distinguished teaching, these prizes help to protect the University as a place of vibrant learning and meritorious excellence,” Boyer said.

The Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Daniel Brudney, professor in Philosophy and the College and associate faculty in the Divinity School and the Maclean Center for Medical Ethics, studies political philosophy and its history, philosophy and literature, bioethics and ethics. He is the author of Marx’s Attempt to Leave Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1998), which traces the development of post-Hegelian thought from Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer to Karl Marx’s work of 1844 and his Theses on Feuerbach, and concludes with an examination of The German Ideology. A Chinese edition of Marx’s Attempt to Leave Philosophy is forthcoming. Brudney is a principal investigator for “Health and Human Rights in the Humanities: Building Capacity with Human Rights Principles,” a Neubauer Collegium project that aims to address fundamental questions underlying the notion of health as a human right. He received his BA and PhD from Harvard University.

Gregory Dwyer, assistant professor in Ecology and Evolution, uses mathematical models to study how viruses that infect insects interact with their hosts. By understanding the epidemiology and evolution of these diseases, he’s revealed insights into the genetics of disease resistance, as well as disease dynamics in humans and plants. Dwyer began teaching 30 years ago as a teaching assistant in graduate school. Affected by near-paralyzing anxiety over making mistakes at first, Dwyer realized that he had important things to teach his students, and that they cared about what he had to say, not what mistakes he made—even if he has a brief flirtation with the same anxiety at the beginning of every school year. Dwyer has authored dozens of peer-reviewed papers and has served on review panels for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He currently serves as associate editor for the journal The American Naturalist. His research was prominently featured in David Quammen's bestseller Spillover.

Anne Henly is a senior lecturer in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and the Department of Psychology. She is the director of the Undergraduate Research Initiative in Psychology, which promotes and supports the involvement of undergraduates in the research process as an integral part of their education in psychology. Her research investigates how we use language to communicate and its effect on thinking. Henly received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2004, focusing on the ambiguity inherent in language and the cognitive processes that allow us to quickly and easily understand one another during spoken language comprehension. Her research has addressed a range of issues, from how we recognize words and understand their meanings to the importance of taking the perspective of others to avoid miscommunication. Henly’s long-standing interests in communication and perspective taking have informed her approach to teaching and play a central role in shaping her interactions with students.

David Mazziotti, professor in chemistry, has received both the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award this year. Ten students have completed their PhDs under Mazziotti’s mentorship since he joined the faculty in 2002. Seven undergraduates who were members of his research group also have completed their studies during this period. He regularly teaches general and honors chemistry, physical chemistry, and advanced quantum mechanics. A theoretician, Mazziotti has pioneered advances in many-electron quantum mechanics that permits scientists to predict more efficiently and accurately the dynamic behavior of electrons in atoms and molecules that govern a wide range of phenomena from chemical reactions to materials. Mazziotti’s honors include the Microsoft Newton Award, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a Packard Foundation Fellowship for Science and Engineering, the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship and a Dreyfus New Faculty Award.

John E. Woods is professor of Iranian and Central Asian History, and of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the College. His research focuses on the history of Turkey, Iran and Central Asia from the 13th to 18th century, with a particular interest in aspects of the encounters of sedentary and nomadic people during those centuries. Woods earned at BA at the University of Texas and soon after was awarded a Fulbright to study Arabic in Cairo. Woods spent five years at Tehran University, working on manuscripts to study Iranian history and Persian language and literature. He completed his doctorate in Iranian history from Princeton University and began teaching at UChicago in 1970. He has been teaching some of the same courses, such as Islamic Civilizations, ever since. He is the author of The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire and The Timurid Dynasty. He also edited and revised the English translation of Fadlullah Khunji-Isfahani's Tarikh-i Alam-ara-yi Amini, as well as standard monographs. He has directed the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and played a central role in its development. In the College, Woods teaches Islamic History and Society, part of the Civilizations Core curriculum. He had advised many BA theses and inspired many students to continue the study of the history, languages and culture of the Near East. In addition to the Quantrell Award, Woods won the Faculty Award for Excellent in Graduate Teaching in 2007.

Wayne C. Booth Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Nicole James began her graduate studies in chemistry this year, also serving as a teaching assistant in Honors General Chemistry. Last summer she worked in the laboratory of Dmitri Talapin, professor in chemistry. More recently she joined the research group of Heinrich Jaeger, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Professor in Physics. James is co-author of four publications, including "Effect of suspended uncontaminated sediment on persistent organic pollutant release," which appeared in the February 2014 issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. She received her BA in chemistry and German studies from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. She then worked as a life sciences lab technician at Walla Walla Community College before enrolling at UChicago.

Elizabeth Emelene Jefferis is a PhD candidate in sociology and graduated cum laude from New York University as a sociology minor and a drama major. A preceptor for the BA sociology thesis for two years, Jefferis is teaching a class called “The Cultural Sociology of Animals.” Using her dramatic arts background, she engages students in the collective act of learning within a semi-structured, improvisational classroom. Her pedagogical goal is to “engage each student’s intellectual passions and imaginations, encouraging unique interests that require courage to pursue.” Jefferis worked as a human resources consultant and manager before she found her true calling in teaching and sociological research. Her research focuses on urban communities, politics and policy; formal organizations; culture, qualitative methods, stratification, race, ethnicity, class and human-animal interaction. Jefferis obtained her master’s degree in sociology from UChicago and attended Stanford University as an exchange scholar for a year.

Laura Merwin, a graduate student in the lab of Joy Bergelson, chair of Ecology and Evolution, studies how plants adapt to different environments. In probing the biology of Arabidopsis thaliana, a popular model organism, Merwin’s goal is to reveal how these plants cope with the inhospitable conditions of beaches. Understanding these adaptations will shed light on genes that might be important for plants to deal with drought, as well as better inform research on agriculture in difficult environments. Although nervous at first, Merwin has quickly come to enjoy teaching. She hopes not only to share her inherent curiosity and fascination with the natural world, but also to help students better understand scientific information to make informed decisions on subjects such as climate change and vaccines. Merwin has won numerous awards for teaching and research, including a Fullbright Postgraduate Scholarship to Australia. She also works with SPARK Chicago, a program that pairs middle school students with mentors based on careers in which the students are interested.

Daniel Pratt successfully defended his dissertation and found out that he won the Booth teaching award on the same weekend. He will earn his PhD in Slavic languages and literature this spring, after earning an MA in the same field in 2007 from the University of Chicago. He did undergraduate work at Princeton University, earning a BA in Comparative Literature in 2003, and took off to the Czech Republic soon thereafter, where he taught English to high school students. He learned about his own teaching philosophy and how people learn languages in those two years in a remote high school; lessons that he has applied to his teaching at the University of Chicago. Pratt has carried a full teaching load while working on his graduate studies—teaching Russian, Czech and Polish language courses, as well as Human Being & Citizen, Central and Eastern European Romanticism, Eastern European Literary Theory and Russian Through Pushkin. The child of two professors, he says it’s possible to be a great researcher and a great educator. “Knowing your subject inside and out means you can teach it from a variety of views,” he said. His research focuses on the culture and aesthetics of Central Europe, with a paper coming next year in Comparative Literature Studies about the intersections between Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke and Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt.