The 2006 Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in TeachingBy Julia Morse
Three Chicago graduate students have been awarded the Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in Teaching.
The prize was established in 1991 in honor of the late Wayne Booth, who was the George Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature and the College.
The prize is parallel to the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, recognizing exceptional teachers on the faculty of the College.
Students and faculty members are able to nominate graduate student teachers annually. The 2006 Booth recipients are Loren Goldman, Zachary Gurard-Levin and Sarah Wasserman.
Since he was 15, Loren Goldman has known he would be a college professor.
“I love reading way too much to do anything else,” Goldman said. “Reading and exploring conversation with students—I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I never really could.”
Goldman received his B.A. in Political Science from Yale University in 2000. Between 2000 and 2003, he attended both the University of Frankfurt in Germany and Oxford University in England, where he taught two courses.
Last year, Goldman received his A.M. in Political Science from Chicago and is currently in his third year of the department’s Ph.D. program.
After teaching five courses to Chicago College students, Goldman said of the students here, “They continue to wow me.”
As a Teacher’s Assistant, Goldman said he has led discussion groups, lectured and assisted faculty members with grading and organizing.
The course for which Goldman received a Booth Prize, titled The Long 18th Century, is one that was “more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done as a teacher,” he said. The course, which was completed last quarter, focused on the French and Scottish political philosophies of the 18th Century and included at least 300 pages of reading every week.
“Nothing we were reading was easy and everything we were reading was hard,” Goldman said. The course could be “very intimidating” to many students, primarily because of the volume, notoriety and complexity of the texts, he said.
“They can seem really boring,” Goldman said. “So, what I try to do is show students why they are, in fact, very interesting. Instead of just hoping they will find the texts interesting, I show them.”
Understanding history at the time these texts were published is also a key factor, Goldman said. “If you don’t understand what was going on at the time, you can’t fully understand or appreciate these texts,” he added.
Academically, Goldman’s passions lie in the political philosophy of German Idealism, American Pragmatism and the contemporary Democratic Theory.
But he also finds time to play DJ for his friends, collect classic jazz and soul records, cook and read historical texts.
“Medieval French history is one of my favorites,” he said. “I am just fascinated with the Crusades.”
At just 23 years old, Zachary Gurard-Levin is working toward what he’s known he would do since high school. “Ever since I took my first chemistry class, I knew that I wanted to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry,” Gurard-Levin said.
After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in Chemistry in May 2005, Gurard-Levin came straight to Chicago to work toward his Ph.D. in Bioorganic Chemistry.
He has taught only one course so far, a combination of discussion and laboratory work, and his mostly second-year College students took notice.
“When I found out my students wanted to nominate me,” Gurard-Levin said. “I was really surprised. Having the nomination come from them is a great feeling and I’m glad I was able to share my excitement for the subject and ease the tension that organic chemistry can bring.”
Remembering being in the same seat as his students not too long ago is a big part of what he believes makes him a good teacher.
“I think that what separates a good TA from what one may consider a great TA is being able to truly relate to the students,” he said. “Sometimes it takes different approaches for certain students to become comfortable with a concept, and patience is always key.”
Although he has little free time between graduate school and teaching, Gurard-Levin tries to remain as athletic as possible.
“I’m sure I’d do more if I had more free time,” Gurard-Levin joked, but added that he participates in a summer softball league organized by the Physical Sciences Division.
“Plus Ð I am a big Red Sox fan,” he said.
Sarah Wasserman said teaching first-year College students for the past two quarters has been one of the most fun experiences she has ever had.
“Being a writing intern, I’ve really been able to be an ally to these students,” Wasserman said. “And watching them grow has been the most incredible reward.”
Wasserman, a 2003 graduate of Kenyon College, is in her second year in the University’s Division of the Humanities; her focus is on contemporary American literature.
She has been teaching the course Reading Cultures, a course that fulfills the requirement of the Core Curriculum for first-year College students. Wasserman said her role in the course has been to focus on writing and that through her writing seminars, she has seen the students gain confidence and improve their skills.
“Because I’m not that much older than these students, I think they really feel comfortable with me, in being honest, expressing themselves and not being afraid to take risks in their writing,” she said.
Also, Wasserman said it is “a privilege,” to teach the same students from quarter to quarter, while members of the faculty are often reassigned. “I stay,” she said. “I get to see the progress. I get to assist with the progress.”
Some of her students come in with the common “freshman jitters,” while others are simply a bit insecure in their writing, Wasserman said. But after two quarters in the course, she said the development is evident.
“By this point in the school year, I can really see how much they are all improving,” she said. “They can feel it, and I can see it.”
In addition to her passions for teaching and writing, Wasserman is a marathon runner, a music lover, and she considers herself to be a Francophile. She studied French for 11 years and lived in France for eight months during college.
Winning a Booth Prize, she said, is not something she could ever have done alone.
“I feel truly indebted to the faculty I worked with over the last year,” Wasserman said. “I learned from them. Their guidance helped me to be a better teacher, to be a better learner and to better understand the role I needed to play for these students.”
Wasserman will be attending Princeton University in the fall, where she plans to pursue her Ph.D.