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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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Two to receive Phi Beta Kappa teaching awards

The Princeton chapter of Phi Beta Kappa will honor William Bialek, the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and Jeff Nunokawa, professor of English, with its annual awards for excellence in undergraduate teaching.

The awards will be presented at the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony, which will be held at 9 a.m. Monday, May 30, in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall, prior to the graduating seniors' Class Day ceremony.

Princeton students elected to the academic honor society have selected recipients of the teaching prize annually since 2004. The students define the criteria for excellence in teaching as: skill in instruction; commitment to working with and building relationships with undergraduates; and ability to spark students' intellectual interests. Each winner is presented with a plaque.

Bialek, who also serves this year as the Thomas D. Jones Professor of Mathematical Physics, is director of the Program in Biophysics and associate director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute. A Princeton faculty member since 2001, he was one of the architects of the University's integrated science curriculum for undergraduates, which involves faculty from chemistry, computer science, molecular biology and physics. He co-teaches the introductory course in the integrated science curriculum.

Bialek's research involves a wide range of theoretical problems at the interface of physics and biology. He has won many previous awards both for his research and his teaching, including Princeton's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2006.

In his recommendation letter, senior Mohit Agrawal wrote that Bialek "is more than just a good lecturer -- he truly cares about all aspects of teaching." Agrawal added that he and his classmates learned from Bialek "a new way to think about and to solve problems. Dare I say, we learned to think in an integrated manner rather than in a differentiated one. ... And I firmly believe that this is the kind of thinking that will help us all solve the next generation of problems, whether scientific or not."

Agrawal added, "Professor Bialek is also one of the best teachers at Princeton. He is a fantastic lecturer who always strives to elucidate the connections between different scientific disciplines. And whether in a graduate biophysics seminar, or an introductory course for freshmen, students don't just learn facts but instead a new way to think and to solve problems."

Nunokawa, who is also a master at the Rockefeller College residential college, has been a Princeton faculty member since 1988. He teaches courses on subjects including the Victorian novel, literary criticism, lesbian and gay literary theory, and Asian American literature.

He won the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1992 and the Class of 2001 University Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2000. He was a faculty fellow and freshman adviser at Rockefeller College from 1989 to 1994 and a fellow at Wilson College from 1995 to 2007. He also is well known on campus and beyond for his prolific essays on Facebook, which cover literature, culture, society and other disparate topics.

"He's an incredibly gifted teacher, one who has a knack for reaching every single person he comes into contact with," senior Nick DiBerardino wrote in nominating Nunokawa for the award. "Jeff is one of the most brilliant, caring and hilariously unusual people you'll ever meet."

DiBerardino added, "I know that Jeff is a legendary performer and a craftsman in the lecture hall. ... But the real gifts Jeff gives us all are the moments we run into him at the gym or walking across campus; the moments we find him across the dinner table or in his living room (with plenty of free food, of course). Jeff invests an enormous amount of energy into the lives and learning of all his students, all the time."

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