Booth PrizesBy Jennifer Leovy
Four graduate students have garnered the Booth Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Rebecca Field, Juha Seppälä, Jacqueline Stewart and Marko Zivkovic have been recognized by students and faculty for their outstanding contributions to teaching in the College.
The Booth Prize was established in 1991 in honor of Wayne Booth, the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature. College students nominate the winners, who must be graduate students. The recipients will each receive a $2,000 cash award.
Rebecca Field, Mathematics
Rebecca Field is a mathematician spending this month at Cambridge University to work on her dissertation in the field of algebraic geometry. She has taught basic and midlevel calculus in the College. Most recently, she taught the precalculus course Fundamental Mathematics.
A lot of my students this year had always been told they were bad at math, when really no one had ever bothered to teach them, Field said. Most students had been taught only to memorize math. Its hard to learn when everyone, even the textbook, assumes the material is too hard for you to actually understand, she said.
Field has acquired both the patience and persistence necessary to convince her students they will excel in math. However, her strongest emphasis is on removing intimidation from the math classroom. Field believes her very presence in the classroom as a woman and a lesbian counters stereotypical notions about who can be good at math and successful in academia. I think my students knowing I am a lesbian helps them think of the classroom as a safe place in ways it might not have been in high school, said Field.
Great teaching involves having a basic respect for your students as people, said Field. It sounds like a miracle that many of my students were doing well in math for the first time, but all I really did was treat them like the intelligent people they are.
Juha Seppälä, Economics
Juha Seppälä is currently in Finland to gather data for his dissertation in economics. While he enjoys that work, he appreciates sharing his knowledge in the College and interacting with hard-working, smart young people, he said.
Seppälä taught Introduction to Macroeconomics this past year and will teach the course again next spring. Teaching is an excellent way to check that you have learned something, said Seppälä. As my father used to say, the best way to learn a new topic is by giving a course on it.
Seppälä said he has spent most of his life studying, including learning to teach. I hope that I know myself better and I understand the students better, but I am still learning, he said. To improve the course he will teach again next year, Seppälä recorded his teaching mistakes in a diary to use as a reference.
I feel that the most important thing for a teacher is an ability to look at things from the students perspective, he said. Teaching should be accessible, interesting and useful.
Jacqueline Stewart, English Language & Literature
This summer, Jacqueline Stewart will finish her dissertation, Migrating to the Movies: The Emergence of Black Urban Film Culture, 1893-1920. She taught Redefining African-American Cinema and African-American Migration Narratives in the College.
Stewart shares a lot with her students, but she is most interested in hearing what they have to say. Students should be able to participate in public discourse, to have the confidence and ability to speak publicly, said Stewart, who emphasizes active classroom participation. Students are responsible for their education.
This belief goes to the heart of what Stewart believes about good teaching. The teachers who impressed me the most not only exposed me to a text or a film that I had not found on my own, but trained me and provided me with tools so I could go out and find works on my own, beyond the classroom, she said. Class time is important, but far more important is the way students continue to learn for themselves outside of the classroom.
Recently, Stewart began working with students on their research. It has been incredible to work one-on-one with students who are preparing B.A. papers, a pleasure which never occurred to me when I began teaching. I am truly looking forward to doing more of that. This fall, Stewart will become an Assistant Professor in English Language & Literature at the University.
Marko Zivkovic, Anthropology
One of Marko Zivkovics favorite books is Herman Hesses The Glass Bead Game, which describes a kind of Platonic ideal of the academy.
Thats what Im passionate aboutbeing both a student and a teacher, said Zivkovic, who is working on his anthropological dissertation about the national narratives in Serbia.
His teaching in the College includes the anthropology course Intensive Study of a Culture: Serbia and the Balkans and the Social Science Core course Wealth, Power and Virtue.
My maxim is that teachers should intrigue students, said Zivkovic. By that I mean we must convey to students that there are some realms of knowledge worth knowing that they dont yet know. And conveying your own passion and excitement about your work is important. When students see genuine passion, they get passionate about knowledge themselves.
Important things happen in the classroom, Zivkovic said. But I still think that what really matters happens after the class is over. Students actually learn more from one another than from their teachers, especially in those intense intellectual exchanges that characterize this University.