May 29, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 18

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    Four honored with Booth Prizes for excellence in teaching

    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 will be awarded to Om Arora, Carolyn Johnson, Suzanne Magnanini and Woodman Taylor at 5 p.m. today, May 29, in Swift Commons.

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

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

    Om Arora

    Arora, a first-year graduate student in physical chemistry, taught organic chemistry. Teaching was a requirement for Arora's Ph.D. in physical chemistry, and he is glad to have had the experience, he said. He credits his students and lab director for his success.

    "It was a great experience," Arora said. "I did a lot of learning -- I had a lot of homework to do for organic chemistry.

    "I would attribute the award to Lab Director Vera Dragisich [Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies in Chemistry]. She really went to great lengths to make the job well-defined for the graduate students who were teaching and to give us tips on how to go about it. She explained what kinds of difficulties we might face in the lab and made suggestions on how to solve them. That helped a lot because I knew then what kind of homework to do."

    Arora said he is pleased that students nominated him. In the course evaluations, students said he was good at explaining complicated science and was very accessible for help, he said.

    "It was fun to be around the undergraduates," he said. "Graduate students are pretty much involved in their courses and research, and to be with undergraduate students was kind of a nice break."

    Arora, a native of India who received his B.S. at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India, said he is exploring directions to take after he receives his doctoral degree and is considering going into industrial research.

    Carolyn Johnson

    Johnson has been an intern and lecturer in Self, Culture and Society, a Social Sciences core sequence, since the 1993-94 academic year.

    "Common Core social science at Chicago posed challenges and dilemmas that I couldn't resist," she said. "It is much easier to just teach specialized, departmentalized courses to upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. But I returned to academe because I wanted to be challenged by the practice of teaching and learning from students."

    Johnson said she enjoyed creating a classroom environment in which students from different backgrounds and academic disciplines could engage in critical analyses and open discussions.

    Johnson attended Carleton College and graduated from the University of Chicago MAPSS program with an M.A. in 1989. She is working toward defending her Ph.D. in anthropology in November.

    She said she has always wanted to be a teacher.

    "I don't think you can do excellent research without also doing excellent teaching," she said. "There must be that dialectic between the very finely focused and individualistic nature of academic research and the constant teaching and interrogating of 'big questions' with students. U.S. students aren't often encouraged to really think about big things like society and culture. That's why teaching in the Core is so much fun, and such a challenge."

    Suzanne Magnanini

    Magnanini said she feels very lucky to be teaching Romance Languages at the University.

    "Teaching is a way to eat," she said, laughing. "No, really, it has been an important experience in my life.

    "Teaching Italian gets students somewhere literally and figuratively. Classes are different. They're more informal and more fun -- we have a good time. A lot of it is talking and finding out about each other."

    Language classes have slightly different rules, she said.

    "Students are allowed to make more mistakes in a language class," she said. "Although the stakes are the same, it may seem like they aren't as high when you're just struggling over how to ask for a cup of coffee."

    A 1990 graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, she majored in Italian and English literature "because I thought I wanted to study art history and study abroad." She has, and she plans to continue. Magnanini will travel to Bologna this summer on a Fulbright Scholarship. There she'll work on her dissertation, which is on monsters in Renaissance fairy tales. "That's my fun," she said. She plans to finish her Ph.D. in about a year and a half.

    Woodman Taylor

    Woodman Taylor is currently researching Indian paintings at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, while completing his Ph.D. in art history. He was honored for teaching a class he designed: South Asian Visual Cultures.

    "I had an incredible group of 27 students, many of whom were South Asian," he said. "Instead of a final exam, each student had to write a proposal for a final project in art or architecture. They came up with a great variety of topics. One student studied the design of a mosque being built in Hinsdale, Illinois. Another worked on the meanings of inscriptions on Islamic monuments and tombs in India, and others considered the contemporary South Asian film scene."

    Taylor said he thought allowing the students to be creative about their projects encouraged them to engage in the course. And having engaged students made him realize he enjoyed teaching.

    "I never thought I would be comfortable teaching," he said. "I guess I felt that since I didn't want to be the type that claimed to be a big authority, I wouldn't be at ease in the classroom. But after a few sessions, I found myself interacting with the students. Many of them became good friends."

    Taylor began teaching Asian art at University of Illinois at Chicago last fall.

    Taylor received his B.A. in ethnomusicology and Asian history at the College at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He worked at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum for several years before coming to Chicago in 1986. Now he is certain about what he wants to do.

    "I want to teach now, absolutely," he said. "Initially I went back to graduate school because in the museum world, an advanced degree is necessary. At first I didn't think that I would feel comfortable teaching. Now I know I actually enjoy it."

    -- Catherine Behan