Our Distinguished Teachers

Five Faculty Are This Year's Recipients of Campus's Top Honors for Excellence in the Classroom

by Stephen Tollefson

A professor whose students liken her style to alchemy, another whose midterms are "a masterpiece" and still another who's an odds-on favorite to make her students shout "Aha!" are among the five recipients of the 1997 Distinguished Teaching Award.

The award, given annually by the Committee on Teaching of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate since 1959, recognizes excellence in teaching.

This year's recipients will be honored at a ceremony Wednesday, April 23, at 5 p.m. in Zellerbach Playhouse. The entire campus community is invited to the ceremony and the reception that follows in the Toll Room of the Alumni House.

Also honored at the ceremony will be the recipient of this year's Educational Initiatives Award, the Undergraduate Minor in Education in the Graduate School of Education. The award is presented annually to a unit in recognition of distinctive contributions to undergraduate education. (See page 3.)

The ceremony will include remarks by Chancellor Tien, The Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ, Academic Senate Chair John Quigley and Alumni Association President Richard Russell. It features a multi-media presentation about the distinguished teachers.

For Hu, His Research Is All Teaching Material

Electrical Engineering Professor Chenming Hu, a specialist in microelectronic devices, inspires students through his own excitement about his field.

He "can cause a person to want to 'grow-up to be just like him.' It was clear that he has a great interest in his profession, and wants others to know its joy and excitement," said one admiring student.

A colleague says that the notion that "simplicity is beautiful" is basic to Hu's teaching. "To him, 'advanced understanding' of a physical phenomenon means that one can explain that phenomenon in easily understandable language and visualizable forms."

Hu encourages his students to "look beyond the school walls." He recently initiated a program in which undergraduates undertake engineering projects that ease the lives of handicapped children.

Regarding his research, Hu says, "I rely on my research to make me a teacher who brings the latest knowledge and the exciting developments in industry to my teaching."

But he is known to regularly pass up conferences in order to not miss class: "I am as excited standing in front of 20 lower division students as I am speaking to 500 researchers at a scientific conference."

Hu joined the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences in 1976. He received a BS from National Taiwan University in 1968 and his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Berkeley in 1973.

Abel Treasures One-on-One Advising

Elizabeth Abel, associate professor of English, who specializes in feminist theory and modern fiction, is able to transform a classroom "into a genuinely open intellectual space," according to one of her colleagues.

"My philosophy of teaching," she says, "is grounded in my desire to help students develop and trust their own voices in the midst of the tumultuous debates unfolding in the humanities today."

"More than any other aspect of teaching," says Abel, "I treasure one-on-one advising."

It is in office hours and conferences, she says, that she can elicit "the often buried, anxiety-producing questions which engage students most intensely."

Students praise her concern for them: "Her interest in us makes such a difference," said one. "She has brought off the near alchemical task of teaching us to examine the texts in relevant ways through a lecture style that invites class participation."

Among her scholarly pursuits, Abel has written and lectured widely on Virginia Woolf. Her seminars on Woolf are legendary, and justly so, according to one student.

"This seminar has been an exhausting adventure, consuming the texts of Virginia Woolf. And it has been the most rewarding experience of my life," said one of her students.

Abel joined the Department of English in 1982. She received her BA from Swarthmore College in 1967 and her PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton in 1975.

Noguera Challenges Students At Every Turn

The transformative nature of Pedro A. Noguera's teaching is what sets it apart for many students. They frequently comment that he "opened our minds" and "changed our perceptions."

Noguera says that "the classroom can be exciting and challenging. Professors and students can grow intellectually, often in some unpredictable and truly remarkable ways."

Noguera, whose courses address issues of race, ethnicity and poverty as they impact schooling, teaching and learning, says that one of his goals is to encourage students to "raise difficult issues without feeling intimidated."

"By seeking out their thoughts and responses to my ideas, and by holding out my own explanations and formulations to scrutiny and debate, I have been able to encourage a critical stance toward the material and toward learning generally."

Colleagues and students praise Noguera for practicing what he preaches. "No one on the faculty has contributed more to the resolution of the problems facing urban education in the East Bay than Pedro Noguera," says a colleague. Noguera was an elected member of the Berkeley School Board from 1990 to 1994 and is a member of the Centers for Disease Control National Task Force on Youth Violence.

An associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, Noguera joined the faculty in 1990. He received his BA from Brown in 1981 and his PhD in sociology from Berkeley in 1989.

Nolan Puts the Odds In Her Students' Favor

Professor Deborah Nolan of statistics says, "There is an 'Aha!' quality to figuring out the chance that someone wins the lottery twice and to figuring out whether you should switch doors when Monte Hall opens one to reveal a donkey.

"One of my goals is to get students to shout 'Aha!' when they solve these problems," she said.

She succeeds at this, and admirably, according to her students. "I would say the best aspect of her teaching genius is her ability to introduce complex, theoretical concepts in statistics and bring them down to the real world. This made learning easier and at the same time pleasurable," explained one of her students.

Numbers of students in statistics courses come from other disciplines, and Nolan is noted for working with and encouraging all students in their understanding of statistics.

A colleague marvels that "she employed an arsenal of pedagogical techniques to involve and challenge the students, to bring them quickly to an understanding of the basic concepts of probability and statistics, and to expose them to exciting problems and original journal articles."

Nolan, whose research interests are empirical processes and cross-validation and model selection, joined the Department of Statistics in 1986. She received her BA from Vassar in 1977 and her PhD in statistics from Yale in 1986.

Rine's Lectures Are Real Gems

"Facts just aren't that important," says Jasper Rine, professor of genetics in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. He recognizes the blasphemous nature of his view, but points out that approximately 300 new papers are published in just his research field every week.

"Faced with growth in biological knowledge of this magnitude, I have wrestled with how one is to teach modern and useful biology."

Rine succeeds in this daunting task. Says a former student, "He was concise, organized, entertaining and perhaps most important, friendly.

"His midterm was a masterpiece; every question was clear and understandable and they were each brain-teasers. They probed beyond surface understanding and required us to apply concepts in new ways."

Colleagues praise him for his lecturing style. His research seminars, says one, "have become canonized by the eponymous term, a 'Rinestone' lecture, which is used by our students to refer to a seminar that is a gem. However, in Jasper's case, a Rinestone is a valuable gem."

A fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and former director of the Human Genome Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Rine joined the Berkeley faculty in 1982. He received his BS from the State University of New York at Albany in 1975 and his PhD in molecular genetics from the University of Oregon in 1979.


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