UC Berkeley honors five distinguished teachers in April 29 ceremony

by Marie Felde

Berkeley -- A coconut palm, a pie divided in strange ways, self-fulfilling prophesies.

Teachers inspire students in many ways, and these are just a few of the creative approaches this year's recipients of the Distinguished Teaching Award at the University of California at Berkeley use to motivate and encourage their students.

The Committee on Teaching of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate has selected five faculty members to receive the award for 1996: Lewis Feldman of plant biology; Robert Full of integrative biology; Robert Middlekauff of history; Kameshwar Poolla of mechanical engineering; and Rhona Weinstein of psychology.

Recipients will be honored at a ceremony Monday, April 29, at 5 p.m. in Zellerbach Playhouse. Also honored will be the recipient of this year's Educational Initiatives Award, the Center for the Teaching and Study of American Cultures.

The ceremony, hosted by Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, is open to the public. A reception follows in the Alumni House lounge.

This year's winners:

Lewis Feldman, professor of plant biology, has been regaling UC Berkeley students with the wonders of the botanical world since 1978.

A coconut palm sits on the stage in his introductory biology class because he believes that "the inherent beauty and originality of the plants themselves will intensify what I say."

Unbridled enthusiasm for his subject is one of the hallmarks of Feldman's teaching. "I delight in plants and draw my students into the botanical kingdom as zealously as a missionary," he said.

The impact of his teaching is so great that one of his students told the selection committee, "I am going to name my first child after him."

Feldman believes that to help students learn the material, a teacher must reach across the distance between professor and students. He visits all his lab sections and by the end of the semester has likely spoken to every student.

The committee was impressed with his ability to gain and keep the interest of huge numbers of students -- even at 8 a.m. classes -- and a teaching style that is both engaging and substantive.

A fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, Feldman's specialty is growth and development and root physiology. He received his BS and MS in botany from UC Davis and his PhD in biology from Harvard.


"The thrill of universal discovery" is one of the elements that Robert Full, professor of integrative biology and one of the top researchers in the world in animal locomotion, hopes to impart to his students.

"I loved the course," said one student, "because I feel like I can now apply my knowledge to anything."

"I have been very fortunate," Full said, "to have a host of outstanding Berkeley undergraduates in my research lab conduct truly benchmark original research, publish their results in the best journals and present their research at national meetings."

In the last nine years, 26 of Full's undergraduates have made presentations at national and international meetings and he has co-authored 16 papers with undergraduates.

A strong component of Full's teaching is his belief that "the primary goal of the university is to develop a student's ability to think critically."

And he is successful. "I've learned to deal with problems that arise and think about the next step. He has set up a near-perfect environment where not only can he teach us, but where we can teach ourselves," one student told the selection committee.

Full received his BA, MA, and PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He joined the Berkeley faculty in 1986.


To Robert Middlekauff, the Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History, teaching and learning "are activities that take a lot of work. I hope that students' imaginations will be stretched and their natural curiosity nourished, that they will grow intellectually and morally."

Much of the pleasure for Middlekauff and his students comes from the exchange that takes place in his classroom.

"He enjoys nothing more than dissent and disagreement, and his ability to encourage students to voice their doubts and criticisms in a non-threatening atmosphere is unmatched," said one of his students.

"I remember feeling in these seminars as if I was finding my voice as a scholar," said another.

"I try to present an argument in each lecture in a way that leaves important questions unresolved. Quite often undergraduate perspectives will be fresh and important, worthy of development or challenge by the entire group," said Middlekauff.

Middlekauff has served as provost and dean of the College of Letters and Science, spent five years as the director of the Huntington Library, published a number of significant books on colonial America, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Kameshwar Poolla, professor of mechanical engineering, had trouble with a pie when he was a child. "When told that Jack ate 11/17 of a pie for breakfast, 2/3 of a pie for lunch, and a further 2/9 of a pie for dinner, and asked how much pie Jack had consumed in all, I was paralyzed," he recalled.

"My mom sensed panic, sat me down, explained fractions and restored my confidence -- with clarity and patience."

Poolla uses the story to illustrate what he hopes to accomplish in his own teaching. "I try hard," he said, "to bring perspective and clarity to my lectures, in a friendly and personal classroom environment.

"Often I find students who know many things, but they don't know how these things fit together. So every time I introduce a new topic, I relate it to previous concepts."

And, his students notice this care. One student reported that one lecture "was so elegant that it gave me the chills."

A former Presidential Young Investigator whose specialty is robust multivariable control systems and adaptive feedback systems, Poolla joined the Berkeley faculty in 1991. He is recognized as one of the top two or three researchers of his generation in automatic controls.


"I am relentless," said Rhona Weinstein, professor of psychology, "in setting the highest expectations for what each student can accomplish. I have seen too many of the casualties of lowered educational expectations."

Her students realize this: "She told us, 'I know I'm pushing you hard, but I want to make sure you will do the best work you possibly can. Don't worry about whether you will succeed. I will make certain that you do.'"

Weinstein's teaching and her research meet here in a way that is rare: she is a nationally recognized expert on the dynamics of self-fulfilling prophecies in schooling and reform efforts to prevent school failure.

Most recently, Weinstein transformed her undergraduate community psychology course to satisfy the campus's American Cultures requirement, focusing on the cause and prevention of mental health and social problems within a multicultural context.

"This course was not only intellectually enlightening and challenging but also had a tremendous impact on my personal life -- as a minority in an increasingly pluralistic society and as a future academician in psychology focusing on minority mental health," said one student.

Weinstein received her BA from McGill University and her PhD from Yale. She joined the Berkeley faculty in 1973.


The Center for the Teaching and Study of American Cultures received the campus's Educational Initiatives Award for "distinctive contributions to undergraduate education."

In 1991 the campus initiated the American cultures breadth requirement and it has since become a national model.

Courses that meet the requirement must analyze how the diversity of America's constituent cultural traditions and their interactions have shaped and continue to shape American identity and experience.

To date, 34,000 students have enrolled in these courses, which have been taught by 154 different instructors and professors.


For more information on the awards, contact Stephen Tollefson at (510) 642-6392. This year's Distinguished Teachers may be reached at: Lewis Feldman, (510) 642-9877; Robert Full, (510) 642-9896; Robert Middlekauff, (510) 642-2495; Kameshwar Poolla, (510) 642-4642 and Rhonda Weinstein, (510) 642-3344. At the Center for the Teaching and Study of American Cultures, contact Professor William Simmons, (510) 642-2912, or Ron Choy, (510) 642-2264.

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