May 26, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 19

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    Graduate students awarded Booth teaching prizes

    Four graduate students who have made outstanding contributions to the instructional programs in the College have been awarded Booth Prizes for Excellence in Teaching.

    The prizes were awarded to Melina Hale, a Ph.D. student in Organismal Biology & Anatomy, who taught the course Multicellular Organisms; Richard Rinaolo, who is working on his Ph.D. in Classical Languages & Literatures and taught Greek and Latin; John Rogers, a Ph.D. student in Computer Science, who taught an upper-level course in computer science; and Timothy Smith, who is working on his Ph.D. in Chemistry and taught introductory chemistry.

    The Booth Prizes recognize the important contributions that graduate students make to the College. The winners, who are nominated by students and faculty, each receive a $2,000 cash award.

    "The Booth award demonstrates how important the University considers the training of teachers and lets us see how enthusiastic our students feel about their teaching assistants. The winners exemplify how seriously our graduate students take their responsibilities," said John Boyer, Dean of the College.

    Hale, a second-year Ph.D. student, is researching how characteristics of the swimming ability of fishes change through development, studying what biologists call the "ontogeny of locomotor mechanics." Hale, who received her B.S. from Duke before coming to Chicago, wants to teach and conduct research in biology as a career. She describes her approach to teaching as "very interactive."

    "I try to make the class less of a lecture and more of a discussion. I encourage the students to ask questions, to bring up topics in biology they are particularly interested in, and to see me if they have problems," she said.

    Hale said it's important for students to know that their instructors view teaching as a priority -- when a teacher is not enthusiastic about a course, students are quick to pick up on it, she said. "I wanted my students to know that they were very important to me, as was teaching the course," she said. "Our students can be some of our greatest instructors. The students I taught this year are in large part responsible for teaching me how to teach."

    Rinaolo (A.B.'88, A.M.'90), said if there is anything distinctive about his teaching methods, it is the inspirational speeches he gives throughout a course.

    "I always tell my students that classical languages are not a subject, but a way of life. I encourage them to change their habits if they want to master a language like Greek or Latin. I try to give them some idea why it's worth all the effort, what they can hope to learn from a close study of the Greek and Roman classics," he said. Rinaolo plans to finish his Ph.D. in June 1995 and would like to continue teaching professionally.

    "I can't imagine getting the Ph.D. without having the teaching experience. It helps you master the material, gives you a view of what teaching is like and, when you see some eyes light up, is very rewarding," Rinaolo said.

    Rogers, who taught both in private industry and at a community college before coming to Chicago, tries to provide class assignments that his students enjoy and can use beyond his course.

    "My philosophy is to keep the students engaged in the work, but also to leave them with a sense of discipline about computer programming. I want them to understand how to approach and solve a multitude of problems systematically, using a computer language," he said.

    Rogers is scheduled to complete his Ph.D. next year. He earned his B.A. from Northwestern in 1978 and his M.S. from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1986.

    Smith, a theoretical physical chemist completing his research in the methods of controlling vibrational motion in chemicals, plans to receive his Ph.D. in August and then take a research assistant position at Notre Dame. He describes his teaching style as charismatic and energetic, with an emphasis on posing a lot of questions.

    "I like to encourage students to say what they feel and not to worry about being wrong," he said. "I have very high standards for my students, usually higher than they have for themselves, but I've found that they almost always rise to the challenge. It's a great joy when students understand something and feel more confident about themselves."

    Smith received his B.S. from Southern Methodist University and taught for a year before coming to Chicago.

    The Booth Prizes were established in 1991 in honor of Wayne Booth, the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature, on the occasion of his retirement.

    The awards parallel the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which recognize distinguished teachers on the faculty.

    -- Charles Whitt