May 25, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 17

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    Wayne C. Booth Prizes for Excellence in Teaching

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    Four graduate students have garnered the Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Deb Foote, Robert Guzy, Heather Lindkvist and Martin Pergler were recognized yesterday at the College Honors Assembly by faculty and students for their outstanding contributions to teaching in the College. They each will receive a $2000 award today at the Quantrell Awards reception.

    [] by lloyd degraneThe Booth Prize was established in 1991 in honor of Wayne Booth, the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature. College students nominate graduate candidates by submitting an essay or letter that identifies the contribution their teacher has made to their education.

    Deb Foote, Division of the Humanities, Department of Romance Languages & Literatures

    Deb Foote is the first person to confess her limitations when speaking Spanish, the subject she teaches in introductory language classes. “I tell students on the first day of class, ‘You’re not native. I’m not native. We’re going to make some mistakes together,’” said Foote. “I’ve been to Spain, and I know what it’s like to accidentally insult native speakers because of a mispronunciation.”

    A doctoral student in romance languages, Foote said she has improved her Spanish by teaching the language––a subject she, ironically, dropped in college. By contrast, she credits her students for their natural enthusiasm.

    “If I could give an award for great teaching, it would probably have to go to the students in my classes. And I have to thank the language coordinators Nadine DeVito and Nené Lozada for their help,” she said. “I really couldn’t have received this award without them. It’s nice to know I’m on the right track.”

    Robert Guzy, Division of the Biological Sciences, Pritzker School of Medicine

    Robert Guzy begins each laboratory lecture by asking, “Why do we care about this?” Guzy, a teaching assistant, ran a four-hour lab section for a Winter Quarter physiology course taught by Professor Robert Perlman, Associate Chairman of Academic Affairs in Physiology.

    “There is a difference between conceptualizing and applying this work and just regurgitating it and then forgetting it later on,” said Guzy, a first-year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program. “What I have appreciated in my professors and what I try to do as a teacher is to get students to think of the material in a new way than they did when they came in the door.”

    Guzy said the course runs smoothly not only because of the professor and other lab assistants, but because of the students’ enthusiasm. “After we talk about ‘why this is important,’ we get into the relevance of the lab experiments and the specifics, but because our students are interested to begin with, they make my job a lot easier.”

    Heather Lindkvist, Division of the Social Sciences, Committee on Human Development

    Even though Heather Lindkvist is a lecturer for the social sciences course Mind, she considers the job title a misnomer. Rather than “telling” students about the course material, Lindkvist, a doctoral candidate in the Committee on Human Development, prefers to see herself as a guide to making information comprehensible and encourages her students to make the course their own.

    “Class discussions are based on the questions students raise and the insights they bring to class––based on how they see this or that paradigm (from the material) at work in their daily lives,” said Lindkvist. “A lot of people disagree with me, but I think personal experience is relevant in the classroom.

    “I try to provide an environment where students can discuss any idea or question they might have, examining why it is relevant to class.”

    Beyond classroom discussions, Lindkvist said she spends a lot of time working with students on their writing, making sure they learn how to use the course materials in order to clearly argue a point. “I am very interested in seeing how students then convey the material that we as teachers convey. You can tell from their questions if you are succeeding at making the material comprehensible, at giving the material context, which is the hardest part of teaching,” she said.

    “I will never stop working on taking academic discourse to its nuts and bolts,” said Lindkvist, who plans to teach as well as do research.

    “Teaching here has been a test for me to see if I could really do it. So, to receive this award––well, I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” she said.

    Martin Pergler, Division of the Physical Sciences, Department of Mathematics

    At some point during his calculus class, Martin Pergler will likely demonstrate Tibetan throat singing. His love of music aside, Pergler sings in class to demonstrate the mathematical theory behind spectral analysis.

    “It is a credit to the University and to its students that covering extra material and doing off-the-wall things in the classroom got me not funny looks, but an award,” said Pergler, a doctoral candidate in mathematics. Pergler also is appreciative of the support he has received from people like Diane Herrmann, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics.

    “Friends of mine who teach at other colleges sometimes feel like they are on their own teaching, but here we can get help when we need it,” Pergler said. He noted that he tries to treat his students as junior colleagues, just as his own professors have treated him during his graduate studies.

    Pergler said, in addition to teaching theorems, he emphasizes communication skills, teaching students not only how to ask focused questions when they do not understand something, but also how to write about mathematics––skills he believes are even more important than knowing specific mathematical techniques.