May 23, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 18

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    Booth Prizes awarded to four graduate students

    s Four graduate students who have made outstanding contributions to the instructional programs in the College have been awarded Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prizes for Excellence in Teaching. The prizes were awarded to Allison Abell, Stanley Chang, Mark Clague and Alexis Dudden.

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

    The 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.

    Allison Abell

    As an advanced graduate student in the Biological Sciences Division, Abell -- who received her Ph.D. in Ecology & Evolution in March -- taught a range of biology courses for majors and nonmajors alike. She said that the opportunity to teach was one of the most important part of her graduate training.

    "Chicago stands out among other major research universities because its Biological Sciences graduate students are required to teach," she said. "And it's not just being thrown into a lecture hall. The Biological Sciences Division offers teacher-training courses, it evaluates its teaching assistants, and it offers them the space to create their own teaching styles."

    During the 1994-95 academic year, Abell participated in teaching what she calls "a unique and intense physiology lab" that represented the best of her teaching experiences at Chicago.

    "Many lab courses focus on learning specific scientific techniques," she said. "But in this course, students didn't just learn techniques, they learned how to do science."

    In a small lab setting, Abell worked with students on research projects. She took the students from the planning stages to doing the actual research, completing the projects and writing up final reports. The class culminated with each student giving a short presentation on his or her research.

    "It was a really special experience, one that asked the students to think scientifically and allowed me to work one-on-one with them. I would like to have this kind of teaching experience in the future."

    Stanley Chang

    As a second-year graduate student in Mathematics, Chang was assigned to teach Calculus 130 -- the beginning level of calculus for undergraduates and, in Chang's view, the sequence that offers the most possibilities for creative teaching.

    "Frankly, calculus is not always the most involving math to learn," he said. "For many humanities and social-science students -- the undergrads who are most likely to be taking Calculus 130 -- it doesn't really offer much in the way of creativity. But that is exactly what I try to provide."

    Focusing on the abstract concepts and historical influences as well as the required problem sets, Chang works to get students to appreciate the structure of calculus as well as its details.

    "For example, I try to get the students to envision a five-dimensional space, something that really would require math for a person in a 3-D world," he said. "What I find is that students who aren't good at calculus can be really great at describing 5-D space -- this is a rare and wonderful thing. Once my students learn a certain amount of higher-math 'lingo,' I often let them loose on other graduate students, who invariably are blown away by what the College students know."

    He bases this approach to teaching on his own experiences studying math and music as an undergraduate at Berkeley.

    "Math and art are sort of the same thing," he said. "Math is not about computing things. It is about thinking a certain way. My job is not only to be as available as I can to students to help them learn the nuts and bolts of calculus -- at least until they can get back to studying what they really love -- but also to expose them to the concepts in math that will probably be what they will read about in their real life after college. It's a way to be of service." Mark Clague

    Clague has been the Course Assistant for two quarters of Music History for Nonmajors, a required Core course that he said "has been a lot of fun to teach, especially when I've brought live performers into the classroom. Recordings are just shadows -- it's people that make music come alive."

    Clague said he tries to integrate his own learning process and discoveries as a teacher -- this is his first college teaching experience -- with the drama of what is usually his students' first encounter with music in a college course.

    "Recently, we were studying the development of program music in the Romantic period through Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (1830), music designed to communicate a specific image or narrative through sound," he said. "Now, most students hear music in this visual manner much of the time anyway because of their encounters with music on television, on MTV, and in film, so I tried to figure out a way to get them to experience this music the way Berlioz's first audience must have -- as modern, new and slightly disorienting. So I played Frank Zappa's 'Jonestown,' a very complex and alienating electronic piece about the Rev. Jim Jones' cult massacre, but I didn't tell them the title. So when they first heard the piece, it was just meaningless noise -- total confusion. Then I explained the reference and we listened again, and they got the idea behind the music immediately, and so discovered for themselves the ways in which an extramusical program can intensify emotional expression."

    Clague, who is working on his Ph.D. in musicology, said the course and what he teaches are related to his research, which focuses on American music and music sociology, specifically the ways in which music had an impact on the daily lives of people in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    "What I am interested in is the conundrum that music is so ubiquitous in our lives, yet we often remain deaf to it as well as to the effects it can be having on us," he said. "The point of the class I teach is not only to deliver information or history to the students, but to help them become aware of how omnipresent and powerful music is in their own lives today."

    Clague feels that part of his success in teaching comes from his "second career" as a musician and private instrumental instructor. A bassoon player, he was principal bassoon of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's training orchestra for three years and has performed with the Grant Park and Chicago symphonies, among other professional ensembles. He is the director of chamber music for the Chicago Youth Symphony and gives private bassoon lessons to several nationally successful students.

    "Working with a student one-on-one, like I do in my instrumental teaching, is hard to manage in the classroom, but I try to keep an individualized approach despite the lecture format," he said. "I really love music, I really get excited by playing, teaching and studying, and I hope to share that excitement with students in the College."

    Alexis Dudden

    Dudden was very happy to hear that she had won a Booth Prize, given that 1994-95 was her first academic year teaching.

    "I'm glad the students enjoyed it," she said. "I had a great time."

    A graduate student in History, Dudden is currently living in Tokyo, researching a dissertation titled "Speaking International Words."

    "I am taking a linguistic approach to the subject of international law in the early 20th century," she said.

    Her multidisciplinary work and study of modern Japanese and Korean history were of great help when she was a teaching assistant in the Introduction to East Asian Civilizations sequence taught by Tetsuo Najita, the Robert S. Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor in History, and Park Young Jae, a visiting scholar from Yonsei University in Korea. In turn, she said, her teaching experience has influenced her thinking.

    "Teaching was sort of like living in Tokyo," she added. "The experience made me realize once again that one can never try to reduce people and places and events to the level of sound bites."

    -- Jeff Makos