May 29, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 17

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    The Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in Teaching

    By Julia Morse
    News Office

    Photo by Beth Rooney

    Left to right: Carlos Manrique, Andrea Haslanger, Mara Marin, Arpad Danos and Thomas Church.

    Five graduate students have been awarded the Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

    The prize was established in 1991 to honor the late Wayne Booth, who was the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature and the College.

    The Booth Prize parallels the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which recognizes exceptional teachers on the faculty of the College. Students and faculty annually nominate graduate student teachers for the Booth Prize.

    Carlos Manrique first knew he wanted to teach when he was an undergraduate student in his native Colombia.

    “I knew then, soon after starting college, that it was for me,” he said.

    At Chicago, Manrique has taught courses in several areas of study, including Spanish language, philosophy and writing—which he said has helped him have some of the most exciting experiences of his life.

    “It’s extremely interesting to teach in all these different areas,” he said. “I have learned so much from each student, each teaching experience.”

    Manrique said he is fascinated by the ways in which his students engage with ideas and how they are moved and challenged by them. He pointed to an example of this engagement, which occurred after his students had discussed over a week of classes the role of psychology in Michel Foucault’s account of the appearance of the category of “sexuality” in the 19th century.

    “A student asked, very seriously, ‘That means that I should stop seeing my psychoanalyst?’” Manrique said. “It was a question that reflects how it matters to students here what they read, and that is very stimulating.”

    Manrique, who received his A.M. in the Divinity School and is currently working toward his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion, said one of his favorite things about teaching at Chicago is the variety in his experiences.

    “You can teach the same material twice, but it’s always a new experience,” he said, adding that he aspires to teach after graduation. “Equally as exciting is the community of thought that happens in these classrooms. Thinking with other people is engaging and really informative.”

    Andrea Haslanger is in her fourth year as a Ph.D. student in English Language & Literature and in her second year teaching. She said this experience prepares her for future teaching.

    “Yes, I will continue on this path,” said Haslanger, whose specialty is the 18th-century novel. “I’ve been completely impressed by the students at Chicago.”

    Haslanger noted that the most delightful thing about teaching is the way it is a collective endeavor.

    “As an instructor, you are teaching, of course, but you are also learning so much from the students,” she said, adding that Chicago students are nothing short of impressive.

    “I’ve found the intellectual curiosity and flexibility of students here remarkable and rewarding,” Haslanger said. “The seriousness of intellect is a wonderful thing to experience first-hand.”

    She added that one consistency in her teaching experience is the manner in which students approach texts and ideas.

    “They do so generously, with a willingness to take them on their own terms, as well as critically, with a commitment to examining whether the assumptions that ground a particular argument are sound,” Haslanger said. “This dedication to rigorous inquiry takes many forms, all of which attest to the impressive range of individual approaches and interests among University of Chicago students.”

    For Thomas Church, it’s the unique style of teaching the inquiry-based learning section of honors calculus that he has found most rewarding.

    “Because it’s not a lecture course, I certainly end up making stronger personal connections with the students,” said Church, a second-year Ph.D. student in Mathematics. “I have a lot of one-on-one interaction with students, which I really enjoy,” said Church, adding that he gets a lot of satisfaction from witnessing his students come full circle in understanding a concept in his class.

    “It’s been very rewarding for me when they realize exactly how everything we’ve been talking about fits together,” he said. “I was very lucky to have such a dedicated group of students. With a nonstandard teaching method like this, the course can’t succeed without students who are willing to put in a serious effort, to learn to think like mathematicians.”

    Church said he has been pleasantly surprised at his students’ level of interest and appreciation for mathematics.

    “A student will come to my office hours and ask a question whose answer is deeper than he or she realizes,” Church said. “To lay the foundation for a solid explanation, I have to back up a bit, and it can be hard to see how the discussion is related to the original question. Most students don’t have the interest or patience to follow this kind of argument, but the students in my class have been very willing to pursue a question wherever it takes them.”

    Church also plans to teach after graduation.

    Arpad Danos had his first teaching experience volunteering at the Blue Gargoyle, tutoring high school students when he was an undergraduate in Mathematics and Physics in the College.

    This year was his first as a graduate student teaching assistant, and he said that newness spurred him to take it more seriously from the start.

    “It was a huge honor to be involved in the class, and I wanted to make sure that I did this job as well as I possibly could,” said Danos, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition. “Cell signaling and endocrinology are challenging subjects, and their integration involves a great mix of physiology and quantitative thinking. Getting a good grasp on them involves not so much one or two big moments of insight, but instead a regular grappling with the material alongside the students.

    “I’ve heard people say the best way to learn something new is to teach it, and that makes a lot of sense to me now.”

    Danos knows he is working with exceptional students who have serious futures ahead of them. “Many of the students in this class are future doctors. The education of every student is a hugely important thing, and these students exemplify that, since their work is going to have a direct effect on a lot of peoples’ lives.”

    After receiving his Ph.D. from Chicago, Danos plans to pursue research and teaching.

    Mara Marin, who will finish her Ph.D. in Political Science this year, said the constant struggle and challenging nature of teaching has been very fulfilling.

    “I really enjoy when I see a student truly connect with a text and make it relevant to their own experiences, while they think critically and analytically at the same time,” Marin said.

    Marin has taught at Chicago in several different academic areas, including gender studies and political science, and said that while class structure and students vary, there is one consistency among her students.

    “University of Chicago students take themselves very seriously,” she said. “Which, of course, as a teacher I really like. They put in a great deal of effort to understand and to learn materials and concepts.”

    Following completion of her Ph.D. dissertation later this year, Marin will serve as a Harper Fellow, teaching social and political thought.