2000 Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching
Medical Center Public Affairs
I was astounded to find out I had even been nominated for this award. I wasnt at all sure I qualified, since I do very little classroom teaching with graduate students, said Sydney Hans, Associate Professor in Psychiatry and a member of the Committee on Human Development and the Committee on Developmental Psychology. Hans is one of four graduate-level teachers who won a 2000 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.
I work with students one-on-one or in small groups, or I hire them as research assistants. I rarely teach them in the classroom, but they get involved in my research, and I get involved in theirs. In the process of sharing our ideas and struggles, I think they learn how to do good research.
Hans studies the delicate interplay between biology and social interaction, how personal relationships, such as the connections between a mother and her child, can affect the childs growth and development. A lot of what she has learned along the way, she said, also applies to teaching.
When we observe parents, we look to see if they are available when the child needs them, she said.
Do they empathize, do they provide structure, set limits, make plans? I think some of the same issues apply to teachers and students. I try to be around when students need help. I try to remember how I felt when I was a student and make them feel comfortable coming to me. And I try to give them structure, to help them focus their research plans, limit their very ambitious projects to reasonable goals and figure out how to get there.
Hans and her students study children at risk, those who grow up in extreme poverty, whose parents are substance abusers or have major mental disorders. They follow these children for years, trying to pick apart the biological and social factors that contribute to risk and resilience.
For example, Hans current projects include a 14-year follow-up study of infants exposed before birth to drugs such as heroin or cocaine. She explores how this drug exposure and subsequent rearing experiences interact to affect the development of the childs brain and body÷everything from attention span to coordination to peer relations.
Another 20-year project involves following infants born to parents with schizophrenia into adulthood to determine how inherited genes may render them more vulnerable to the disorder and whether there are early behavioral abnormalities that can act as warning signs of increased susceptibility.
Although Hans came to the University as a Research Associate in 1978, fresh out of graduate school at Harvard University, she did not get very involved in teaching until about 10 years ago when she began mentoring more and more graduate and undergraduate students, introducing them to the world of modern research.
She attracted students who had projects that fell somewhere between the social sciences and biological psychiatry.
Teaching, she said, has had a significant impact on her own research. Most good new ideas, she insists, come from sharing thoughts, bouncing ideas off of one another. Through work with students in the social sciences, her projects have expanded in scope, taking a broader view of childrens environments. For example, she has studied how family members support one another to raise and protect their children in conditions of extreme poverty and frequent violence.
A recent example of Hans work is a study still underway at the Robert Taylor Homes, a vast housing project on Chicagos South Side. She and her students found that although many children live in single-parent households, the fathers are much more important than anyone expected, she said. The majority are actually very involved.
But a childs community reaches far beyond the parents, she discovered, even beyond extended families to include whole constellations of families.
Raising, protecting and educating a child in this setting is a matter of constant, complicated negotiations, concludes Hans. Teaching, too, can involve such complex negotiations.
News Office I can be a harsh critic, but my students know Im a critic in good faith, said Anna Lisa Crone, Professor in Slavic Languages & Literatures. The only reason not to criticize your students when they are working below their ability is laziness or indifference.
A recipient of a 2000 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, Crone is widely known in her field for her ability to elucidate difficult Russian poetry of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Colleagues often defer to her expertise on recondite verses authored by the Petersburg poets, the Russian symbolists and others.
She also has written more than 50 articles and three books over the last 30 years. Her forthcoming title, The Daring of Derzhavin: The Moral and Aesthetic Independence of the Poet in Russia (Indiana University Press, August 2000), deals with the influence of the poet and statesman on the institution of poetry during the era of Catherine the Great.
Her professional accomplishments notwithstanding, Crone explained that much of her emphasis as a scholar is pedagogical. I see scholarly writing as just another means of explaining things that people wouldnt otherwise understand, she explained. Although I suppose Ive made a nice career for myself, Ive always felt that an investment in people and the continuation of the discipline are the most meaningful things.
Growing up in North Carolina during the 1960s, she remembers that it was a sense of duty that initially led her to take up the profession. Entering college at the age of 16, the decision to study Russian seemed to her a patriotic calling.
You have to understand that this was back in the days when the motto was ask not what your country can do for you, but rather, ask what you can do for your country. We were taught in school that not enough American citizens understood the language of the enemy, she explained. It sounds naive today, I know, but I was a very young girl at the time.
After receiving a B.A. in Russian literature from Goucher College in 1967, Crone accepted a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and an NDEA Fellowship for graduate study at Harvard University. The Wilson Fellowship came with a teaching requirement, which she fulfilled as a full-time instructor of Russian language and literature at Johns Hopkins University. It was that experience that made me realize that teaching was something I could and probably ought to do, said Crone.
She received a Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1985, but during the last decade, Crone has mainly worked with graduate students. Graduate teaching carries a different kind of responsibility because youre dealing with adults who are putting off their lives, she said. There are not a great number of jobs in Russian, and you have to be excellent to get one.
Her students find her dedication invaluable. I have never heard of an adviser who is as devoted to her students, said Liza Ginzburg, who, this past April, completed her Ph.D. in the Universitys Slavic program with Crone as her adviser.
At times, I had the impression that she knew the subject of my dissertation better than I did, she said. I always felt she was as interested in my work as I was. Ginzburg now plans to turn her thesis, On the Structural Role of Sound in the Poetry of Fedor Tyutchev, into a book.
Crone said that knowing ones students well and demonstrating a commitment to their development as scholars are the real keys to teaching at the graduate level.
You have to believe whole-heartedly in your students, she explained. This is not something that can be faked. If youre going to have faith in a person, you have to know exactly what there is to hang it on.
She feels extremely lucky to have had opportunities to work with a number of exceptionally bright graduate students in the Slavic program at Chicago. You have to be happy when you have the opportunity to work with a young person who is clearly going to be better than you are or have ever been, she said. You have to foster that person and rejoice in his or her successes.
Crone said she is proud when her students go on to become teachers themselves. Teaching and scholarship can be a kind of integrated life, and the one really serves the other, she explained. It satisfies me when they recognize that.