UC Berkeley News


 Distinguished Teaching Award recipients David Wagner (rear), Ani Adhikari (left), and Ananya Roy join the select ranks of faculty members - only 1 in 20 of those who have taught here since 1959, the year the award was established - to be honored with the campus's highest honor for instruction.(Peg Skorpinski photo)

Three faculty take home Distinguished Teaching Awards

27 April 2006

Two assistant professors and a lecturer were honored at Wednesday's Distinguished Teaching Award Ceremony in Zellerbach Playhouse. The 2006 recipients - all of whom happen to have received their Ph.D.s from Berkeley - are statistics lecturer Ani Adhikari; Ananya Roy, assistant professor of city and regional planning; and David Wagner, assistant professor of computer science. At the ceremony, attendees got a close-up glimpse of these exceptional teachers via a student-produced video on each recipient.

Laurels went, as well, to the Public Health Undergraduate Program at the School of Public Health, which won an Educational Initiatives Award - presented annually to a department or unit that has made distinctive contributions to undergraduate education.

Both awards are bestowed by the Committee on Teaching of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate.

The Distinguished Teaching Award is the highest honor for instruction given by the campus. Only 5 percent of those who have taught since 1959, the year the awards were initiated, have received this award. This year's recipients bring the total to 219.

Here is a snapshot of the 2006 honorees:

Ani Adhikari, statistics

A bit of theatrics, a few jokes, perhaps some confrontation, and intimate engagement with students is Ani Adhikari's key to enlivening the dry subject of statistics.

"Students like a sharp-tongued professor, if the sharp tongue is not directed toward them," says Adhikari, a native of Calcutta, India, who has lectured in the statistics department for nearly 10 years. "I really wish I could be Professor Snape from Harry Potter."

Hats off to the Public Health Undergraduate Program
The 2006 winner of the campus's Educational Initiatives Award - the Public Health Undergraduate Program in the School of Public Health - represents a major national innovation in the field: It is one of only two fully developed undergraduate public-health majors in the country and the only one that is part of a professional school of public health. With more than 220 students, the major has six rigorous core courses: biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health policy and management, community health and human behavior, and public-health microbiology. It also includes an honors program, two student groups, a peer-mentor program, an internship program, and a summer training program. Student response to the major has been overwhelming: there are 300 students on the waiting list.

Eschewing electronic media like PowerPoint, she writes and sketches on the blackboard and draws students into statistical problems with drama and a bit of suspense, even in the 250-student Introduction to Statistics (aka Stat 2) classes. But she is uncompromising about honesty. "Even at the highest levels, people tend to dazzle you with not-very-well-founded statistical arguments," she notes. "I do not allow any student to hide behind jargon or calculations or formulas."

"Adhikari's teaching methods are a tradition that should be passed down," says a former student, Sadhana Nathan. "I decided to sit in on her Statistics 2 lectures last fall, because I had learned so much in her class and I wanted to pass on her teaching techniques to the high-schoolers I was working with in the statistics classes at Berkeley High. Her style . still makes me nostalgic every time I think of her class."

Adhikari almost didn't make it to Berkeley as a student. Turned down by the Graduate Division because she attended a three-year program at the Indian Statistical Institute, she was surprised to receive a cable from one of the legends of statistics, the late Berkeley professor Lucien Le Cam: "Please disregard Graduate Division letter. Department recommends highly."

"It was like receiving a cable from the Beatles," she says. After obtaining her Ph.D. in 1986 and teaching at Stanford University, she returned to teach at Berkeley in 1996. Since then she has been instrumental in developing a pedagogy course for graduate-student instructors in statistics courses.

"I did my degree at this university, and I learned from this department," she says, "and I am having a ball returning what was given to me. It keeps me young."

Ananya Roy, city and regional planning

A letter nominating Ananya Roy for a Distinguished Teaching Award lauded the assistant professor and chair of urban studies as "one of the most gifted teachers in the 57-year history of the Department of City and Regional Planning."

The sentiments of the authors, Robert Cervero and Martin Wachs, chair and professor emeritus, respectively, of that department, were echoed by a student who said in his evaluation of Roy that he had never had a professor "more well-informed, dynamic, knowledgeable, articulate, and inspiring."

Roy, whose current research examines the policies governing public health and poverty on a global level, says her teaching is guided by three principles.

"First," she says, "I seek to globalize the curriculum of urban studies and planning, educating students about the great cities that lie outside the domain of their Euro-American experiences: Calcutta, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Nairobi.

"I want my students to rethink their preconceived atlases: to not just fit these urbanisms into what they already know but to craft entirely new paradigms of urban order and function. And more boldly, I want them to call into question the geopolitical hierarchies, such as First World and Third World, through which we have ordered the world."

A native of Calcutta, Roy earned her B.A. in comparative urban studies from Mills College in Oakland and received a M.C.P. and Ph.D. in city and regional planning from Berkeley. She taught in the sociology department at Mills in 1996 and joined the Berkeley faculty in 1999.

Roy also serves as chair of her department's undergraduate urban- studies major, associate dean of academic affairs for International and Area Studies, and faculty director of the Berkeley Programs for Study Abroad.

Teaching requires more than being in the classroom and serving as an adviser and mentor, she says; it also means taking on institutional roles and administrative duties.

"There is a lot of work to be done," she says, "to preserve this beautiful but fragile ideal called a public university, to ensure excellence and inclusion in public education."

David Wagner, electrical engineering and computer sciences

When students in David Wagner's class raise their hands to give him a hard time about something he just said, or leave class debating a point in his lecture, he knows he's succeeded as a teacher.

"My ideal classroom scenario is one where students are active learners forming their own conclusions," says Wagner. "I try to get students engaged in debating the material or puzzling through it themselves."

The decision to go into a field that requires teaching was not an easy one for the assistant professor of computer science. During the years he spent working toward an A.B. in mathematics from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Berkeley, he had little experience in (and lots of trepidation about) teaching. But after starting at Berkeley in 2000, he knew he'd made the right choice. "Not only did I like the teaching," he says, "I loved it."

Wagner draws on his own experiences to get his points across to students, says Karl Chen, a Ph.D. student in computer science who took two classes from Wagner as an undergraduate. "He has a unique teaching style," Chen says. "His lectures are very interactive, and he relates to students by talking about his past experiences, so his lectures feel like a story that's unfolding."

The first time Wagner taught CS 70, Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science, Chen was in the classroom. "It was the single best undergraduate course I took," he says. "This course fueled my love for computer science."

Wagner is recognized as one of the world's leading cryptographers and experts in computer security. In 2002 the magazine Popular Science named him one of its "Brilliant 10." In a letter recommending Wagner for the teaching award, Richard Karp, University Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, said that Wagner's stature as a researcher informs his teaching.

"He has invented most of the main techniques for the analysis of cryptographic protocols, won early fame for his exploits in breaking cryptographic systems, and has contributed greatly to providing a rigorous foundation for the field of software security," Karp wrote.