Graduate students receive first Sagan teaching awards
Scientist, teacher, author and University alumnus Carl Sagan returned to his alma mater Oct. 15 to present the first annual Carl Sagan Award for Excellence in Teaching to two graduate students in Astronomy & Astrophysics, James Lauroesch and David Schleuning.
The Sagan Award, which is sponsored by Astronomy & Astrophysics, emphasizes the department's commitment to excellence in teaching in the College, said Robert Rosner, Professor and Chairman of Astronomy & Astrophysics. "We as a department have always had an interest in undergraduate teaching, even though we don't have an undergraduate concentration in astronomy," he said. "This award is a way of recognizing the contributions of graduate students who are teaching assistants."
Naming the award after Sagan was an easy decision, Rosner said. "Sagan is a great science communicator. He has taught scores of people and has helped make science accessible to a general audience through his writing and television work. He is certainly among the distinguished alumni of our department."
Sagan, director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies and the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy at Cornell, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who hosted a series on public television based on his book "Cosmos." He has been involved in several interplanetary spacecraft missions, including the Viking and Voyager missions. He received his A.B. in 1954, his S.B. in 1955, his S.M. in 1956 and his Ph.D. in 1960 from the University.
Lauroesch and Schleuning were surprised and pleased by the award.
Lauroesch, who studies ultraviolet and optical astronomy with Don York, Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, said he has been a teaching assistant for approximately 10 classes at Chicago. "I like teaching because it keeps me thinking. I always end up learning things I didn't know, because someone will always ask a question I don't know the answer to," he said. "And I enjoy astronomy so much that I love to watch other people getting excited about it."
Schleuning, who is studying far-infrared polarimetry with Roger Hildebrand, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Physics, said he enjoys demonstrating physical principles by showing something that doesn't seem like it could possibly work, "and then it does work," he said. "In some ways, teaching physics is like doing a magic show."
Schleuning was a teaching assistant for the introductory series of courses in the physical sciences sequence. "My theory about teaching is that good teachers are people who are very enthusiastic about what they're doing, and I certainly was that," he said, laughing.
The Sagan Award, which includes a $500 cash prize, will be awarded annually to a graduate student who teaches in the College. The recipients are chosen by faculty members.