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Ananya Roy (left) reacted with pleasure to the surprise news that she had won the Golden Apple Award on April 3. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
 

Fruit and flowers honor a teacher who ‘knows her stuff’
This year’s student-initiated Golden Apple Award goes to Ananya Roy

| 09 April 2008

On paper, Ananya Roy is associate dean of academic affairs in international and area studies and chair of the undergraduate urban-studies major within the College of Environmental Design. In the world, she’s an energetic force for change when it comes to global poverty.

In her classes, meanwhile, Roy is a rock star, a mighty teacher with the ability to inspire as well as to educate the hundreds of students her classes routinely attract. Here’s what a few of those students had to say in nominating her for the 2008 Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching:

“She knows her stuff and she speaks it well and, at the end of every lecture, you leave contemplating the rest of the evening about the meaning of life and the world around us.”

And: “She truly challenges people to think critically about what they study. Her passion is evident and contagious, her lectures thought-provoking … ”

And: “A powerful, motivating speaker, she is the key reason for me changing my major from political science to development studies.”

On Thursday, April 3, Roy was interrupted in the middle of her 5 p.m. class by a surprise visit by a group of students bearing a bouquet and a basket of apples — the prizes that accompany the Golden Apple Award. There were more than 250 nominations for this year’s honor, according to Andrew Gurwitz, chair of the Golden Apple Award Student Committee on Teaching, part of ASUC.

The award, the only teaching award at Berkeley that comes from students, is intended “to honor those professors who teach with energy — inspiring, demonstrating passion, and showing care in the classroom … who consistently teach each lecture as if it were their last,” Gurwitz says.

“I have to say, I was very surprised and very honored,” says Roy, who will be lauded in a more formal ceremony on Thursday, April 24, at 7 p.m. in Dwinelle Hall, when she’ll deliver her “Ideal Last Lecture” and receive a $2,000 prize.

Roy, who earned her graduate degrees at Berkeley, won the university’s Distinguished Teaching and Distingushed Faculty Mentor awards in 2006. Excellent teaching must run in the family, because her “partner and best friend,” Nezar AlSayyid, professor of architecture, planning, and urban design and chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, won a Distinguished Teaching Award this year.

“To teach is a privilege,” Roy has said in summing up her philosophy of teaching.

Her students, she told the Berkeleyan, inspire her every bit as much as she does them.

“Every semester I realize that what is involved in good teaching is not just preparation and hard work but the fact that we have fantastic students at Berkeley,” she says.

At Berkeley, she says, it’s expected that students will speak up in graduate seminars, but even in her largest classes — and she taught one as large as 600 last fall — her undergraduates do too.

“They have the ability to speak up, frame new ideas, recalibrate what we are doing,” Roy says. “That interactive process of learning in the classroom is such a part of what we do at Berkeley. That it happens also in undergraduate classes is inspiring.”

Roy says her work as curriculum director of the recently established Blum Center for Developing Economies has opened a new dimension in her teaching.

As important to her as classroom teaching and mentoring students, she says, is institution building — “what we on this campus call service. I think that piece of it has become even more important in my life in the past couple of years,” she adds.

An example is the new minor in Global Policy and Practice, which Roy has helped set up through the Blum Center. An unusual aspect, she says, is that students will be asked not just to formulate a practice but also to “go out and do it.”

The ability to create that structure for learning, she says, “was a dream come true.” And it’s one more way for Berkeley students to experience her approach to teaching.

“I think it’s important to be in the classroom,” Roy says. “All that other work needs to happen too.”