Five Graduate Students Honored for Excellence in Teaching

Tribute to Teaching Reception

On April 29, the Graduate School honored and presented awards to five graduate students in recognition of their outstanding abilities as teachers.

The awardees are Thomas Beck from the Department of Mathematics, Simon Cullen from the Department of Philosophy, Sili Deng from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, George Laufenberg from the Department of Anthropology, and Jane Manners from the Department of History.

Thomas Beck is a fourth-year graduate student in Mathematics and has taught various courses including, Analysis I: Fourier Analysis and Partial Differential Equations, Analysis II: Complex Analysis, Multivariable Calculus, Math Alive, and Analysis in Several Variables.  Last fall, Tom was an AI for MAT 104: Calculus II. Professor David Gabai writes, that Tom is “an outstanding teacher and is seen as easily approachable by his fellow graduate students.” Lecturer Christine Taylor adds, “…when I observed Tom Beck last fall teaching…Calculus II, I was astounded to find a novice who was already a master teacher.” Lecturer Taylor describes Tom’s lectures as “very clear and enlightening,” and noted that, “he always made his expectations for the class and exams very explicit and clear.” As a result, Tom received an evaluation rating of 4.89 from 19 students. By contrast, the overall course rating was 3.41. One sophomore offered the following sentiments,  “I am very thankful to have been in Tom’s section of MAT 104. He is an exceptional teacher who went to great lengths to make sure that we were all getting as much out of the class as possible.”  Another student added, “The job of a lecturer is a difficult one – it is a combination of covering the desired breadth of material and conveying the requisite depth to each student. This balancing act ideally involves resolving points of confusion for any student and managing to reach the end of the lecture notes by dismissal…(Tom) pays close attention to his students and if he notices confused faces, he make sure to slow down and reiterate a concept in a way that makes it understandable…and astutely answers questions with utmost clarity and as much simplicity as is appropriate. Not all teachers possess the ability to balance the requirements of the curriculum with the demands of their students, but Thomas Beck is certainly among the ranks of those who do.”

Simon Cullen is a fifth-year graduate student in Philosophy and an AI for FRS 105: Philosophical Analysis with Argument Mapping. It is important to note that Simon was an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne, where Tim van Gelder first developed the “argument mapping” approach to teaching critical thinking skills. Professor Adam Elga explains, “ Simon approached me last year with the idea of helping to teach a seminar at Princeton that would take advantage of the argument mapping in order to teach philosophy. (He) was extremely persuasive, and has been most essential to the development of the…seminar.” One student commented, “He truly cares about our experience in this freshman seminar. Simon continually asked for and, more importantly, responded to our feedback…on the whole, having him as an academic instructor was one of the best parts of the freshman seminar.” Another student added, “Simon went to great lengths to enrich our experience in the seminar, including creating half-hour long YouTube videos in which he went through passages from homework and mapped them, talking us through the process so we could improve our own mapping skills. In class, he exhibited such passion for philosophy during discussions and spurred excitement and emotion among students who ardently defended their positions…and challenged us with the readings so we could realize our potential and truly learn.” Aside from excellent teaching, Simon has been an invaluable resource at Forbes College, where he is a graduate fellow, and has organized many philosophical roundtables that blurred the boundary between the seminar room and residential college. Professor Elga continues, “By the end of the semester, I could tell that the students were not only grateful for the help Simon had given them, but were also fully invested in the course as a result of his input.”

Sili Deng is a fourth-year graduate student in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Sili has taught MAE 426: Rocket and Air-Breathing Propulsion Technology, MAE-ENE 221: Thermodynamics, and MAE-ENE 427: Energy Conversion and the Environment: Transportation Applications. Assistant Professor Michael Mueller writes, “To say that Sili was an outstanding AI in my course is a severe understatement. She demonstrated an unprecedented dedication to the course and the students that I have never seen as a student, AI, or instructor throughout my academic career.” Sili proved to be a seasoned academic professional with her strategic response to feedback. In the middle of the semester, Professor Mueller and Sili collected feedback from the students regarding their thoughts on improving lectures and precepts. After learning that students needed more examples during precepts, Sili happily obliged and restructured her approach, providing relevant examples for students helping them to obtain a better grasp of the material. One student commented, “The precepts were unfortunately scheduled in the hour we usually used for lunch, but despite this fact and even though the precepts were not mandatory, almost everyone in the class attended Sili’s precept due to the value that they held for us.” By all standards, MAE 427 is a challenging course, and Sili put an incredible amount of time into helping students get through the material. Another student added, “On the occasions when I went to her office hours, she sat with me individually and walked me step-by-step through an example problem until I understood what was happening conceptually and could relate the concept back to the original question – and then she would repeat the process with another student. I have never had an AI so invested in our success in a course.” In one of her students’ favorite anecdotes, Sili once joked after a long review session that students were welcome to follow her to the gym and pester her with questions for as long as they needed. Although said in jest, it is certain that she is extremely dedicated and would have gladly taken any student along to chat about course concepts at any time.

George Laufenberg is a seventh-year graduate student in Anthropology and Quin Morton Teaching Fellow in the Princeton Writing Program. George was the co-creator of WR 191: American Mysticism and AI for ANT 218: Religion and Medicine and a preceptor for ANT 201: Introduction to Anthropology. His project, American Healers: Psychology and the Sacred, investigates the spiritual traditions and ritual practices of a group of US mental health professions and examines how they translate their experiences with members of a Native North American tribe into a vision for social change and a role for the sacred in the American mental health care structure. His research and interests motivated him to design the American Mysticism course, which invites students to analyze our cultural understanding of the relationship between truth and experience. Amanda Irwin Wilkins, director of the Princeton Writing Program, notes, “George’s teaching finds an appreciative audience among his students: his Fall 2013 teaching evaluations for overall seminar quality averaged 4.58, which markedly exceeds both the University average and the Writing Program average.” One student writes, “I really felt comfortable and was able to learn how to properly participate in a class room while taking this class. (He) really worked hard to get us comfortable with commenting or questioning at the beginning sessions…. The classes were always fun, interesting and I always learned something new. The workshops really assisted me as a writer to know what is expected of me. Another student simply states, “George was a great professor and I’m so glad I was in his class!” Amanda Irwin Wilkins continues, “In addition to his gift for working with students, George has distinguished himself as a collaborative and energetic colleague. This year he has been a sympathetic mentor for first-year Quin Morton Teaching Fellows…and has played a crucial role in the Writing Program’s Dissertation Boot Camps…for graduate students…and has frequently facilitated small group debriefings at the end of each day’s writing session to help participants take stock of their progress, set their goals for the next day, test out their ideas on colleagues from outside their own discipline, and exchange writing strategies.”

Jane Manners is a third-year graduate student in History and was a preceptor for AMS 390: American Legal Thought. Jane’s adviser, Professor Hendrik Hartog writes, “The course was hard for us all.  It was the first time it was offered.  I have never before tried to teach such difficult material to undergraduates and Jane was fantastic.  How fantastic she was is marked by the class evaluations for her.  She received all 5s (without any exception) in both of the precepts she led, a feat rarely achieved…  One student after another described her as the best preceptor had in three or four years at Princeton.” A sophomore explained, “Throughout the course of the semester, Mrs. Manners lead precept in the most engaging, thought-provoking, organized, and educating manner that I have seen thus far at Princeton.” Another student commented, “Though I have had the opportunity to be taught and precepted by many distinguished faculty members and graduate students during my time at Princeton, Jane stands head and shoulders above most of them.  As an instructor she proved herself both demanding and encouraging, caring and critical.” Professor Hartog concluded, “But her qualities went beyond what the evaluation forms can reveal.  She helped me enormously in constructing the syllabus for this new course, and in talking through what we expected students to get from the readings… She held students to very high standards, but she also made them feel entirely invested in the enterprise of writing and talking about legal thought.”