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Graduate students honored for excellence in teaching

The Princeton Graduate School will present awards to six graduate students in recognition of their outstanding abilities as teachers.

The annual Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni (APGA) Teaching Awards are sponsored by graduate alumni and are selected by the Graduate School administration. The five 2011 winners are Sibren Isaacman of the electrical engineering department, Jessica Lowe of the history department, Rose MacLean of the classics department, Richard Martin of the anthropology department and Christina Riehl of the ecology and evolutionary biology department.

A sixth student, Alexander Zhiboedov of the physics department, will receive the Friends of the Davis International Center Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given annually to an international graduate student.

All will be honored at the APGA's Tribute to Teaching Reception on Saturday, May 28. Each winner will receive $1,000.

Isaacman, a 2005 graduate of Cornell University, received his master's degree from Princeton in 2006 and then taught high school physics for a year in Nicaragua at the Lincoln International Academy in Managua. He returned to Princeton in 2007 to pursue his Ph.D., and he is currently a graduate fellow in the University's McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Isaacman was an assistant in instruction for "Introduction to Programming Systems," a large sophomore-level computer science class, for which he served as a preceptor and often stayed to speak with students long after class lectures were completed. Professor of Computer Science Jennifer Rexford said, "He makes sure the students know why their programs didn't work, or how they could have made their programs simpler, easier to understand and more efficient -- lessons that will serve them well in upper-level computer science courses and in the 'real world' after they graduate." Several students from the course remarked on how invested Isaacman was in their progress throughout the semester. "His ability to command a classroom while simultaneously still making me as an individual feel noticed is also something valuable," said one student. "He really goes out of his way to make sure that he knows everyone on a personal basis … and I will always remember his invaluable support and patience," the student said. Isaacman hopes to obtain his Ph.D. in early 2012.

Lowe came to Princeton in 2005 after earning her law degree from Harvard University in 2002. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 1998. Currently working toward her Ph.D. in American history, Lowe was an assistant to Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty Hendrik Hartog this fall in his course titled "The Role of Law in American Society." Hartog said Lowe was "tough, perceptive, amazingly lucid and knew how to draw students out," adding that she was also "patient, thoughtful, an intense and engaged listener, and superbly articulate. And she is committed to the project of making legal history accessible and exciting for others." Lowe brought into the classroom her firsthand experience as a federal district and appellate court law clerk and practicing attorney. One student said, "She was able to find a balance between guiding the precept to cover all the points we needed to cover that week while also allowing us to respond to each other and digress when necessary. Additionally she was effective in engaging with our comments and pushing back against our assertions to make us support our claims." Lowe plans to defend her dissertation in 2012.

MacLean, a 2003 Dartmouth College graduate who arrived at Princeton in 2005, focuses her research on Roman social history and epigraphy. MacLean assisted in several undergraduate courses, including "The Other Side of Rome," "Archaic and Classical Greece" and "The Roman Empire, 31 B.C. to A.D. 337." Andrew Feldherr, professor of classics and director of the department's graduate studies, noted that led MacLean six precepts for "Classical Mythology" in the fall in addition to applying for academic jobs and working on her dissertation. "The fact that her evaluations were so outstanding for that semester reveals a particularly high level of dedication and professionalism," said Feldherr. Students commented on MacLean's consistently relatable and approachable style as an instructor. "Rose definitely stands out for her deep knowledge of ancient Rome and Greece, her enthusiasm in teaching undergraduates, her dedication to scholarly pursuit and, most importantly, her genuine kindness," one student wrote. MacLean will defend her dissertation this fall.

Martin graduated from Columbia University in 2004 and spent a year in Berlin on a Fulbright grant in Germanic languages and literatures before enrolling at Princeton in 2005. Martin, who hopes to earn his Ph.D. in September, studies the re-emergence of ritual forms in modern, secular contexts. Martin designed and taught the writing seminar "Knowledge and Travel." In nominating Martin for the award, Amanda Irwin Wilkins, director of the Princeton Writing Program, said Martin "demonstrated a gift for guiding students through the research process and helping them see how the intellectual work of the classroom informs the thinking and writing they will do throughout their careers at Princeton." One of Martin's students said, "Through this course I have gained the confidence to write refined and carefully considered essays." Another student said Martin "is extremely enthusiastic about the material, and this gets all of his students excited about the work they're doing. … Honestly, I couldn't have asked for more from the writing seminar experience." Martin will defend his dissertation in September.

Riehl enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Princeton in 2005, the same year she graduated with a bachelor's degree from Harvard. This year she was the assistant instructor for "Evolutionary Biology" and "Comparative Physiology." In nominating Riehl for the award, Daniel Rubenstein, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology and professor and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said Riehl "gets the best from students by listening closely to what they say and then draws from them what is missing." Students remarked on Riehl's keen ability to translate complex concepts into understandable ones, with one student saying "there would be concepts in lecture that I wouldn't get at all, and then once Christie talked about it, it was crystal clear." Another student said, "Christie Riehl is not only the best preceptor I've had for a class within the department, but the best preceptor I have had during my four years as a Princeton undergraduate -- bar none." Alluding to her future, Rubenstein said, "Christie is going to be an intellectual leader in her field of evolutionary behavior and will be a much cherished teacher at whatever institution hires her." Riehl will receive her Ph.D. at Commencement Tuesday, May 31.

Zhiboedov enrolled at Princeton in 2009 after earning a bachelor's degree from Nizhny Novgorod State University in Russia and a master's from Moscow State University. Currently working toward a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, Zhiboedov was an assistant in instruction in "Experimental Physics," an advanced laboratory course where students perform a series of fundamental experiments and participate in an electronics lab. Professor Steven Gubser, director of graduate studies for the physics department, said being an assistant in instruction in that particular lab requires not only deft teaching skills but technical ones as well, making it one of the most challenging teaching assignments in the department. Students described Zhiboedov's teaching style as not only intellectually helpful but emotionally invested as well. "It seems that he takes the teaching part of his job seriously, and the effort he puts in clearly shows," said one student. "Most importantly, however, he is warm, welcoming and encouraging." Speaking to Zhiboedov's attention to the finer details of lab instruction, one student said, "It would be easy enough to just tell us what to do, but instead he explains why we are doing it and shows us what is interesting about it from a physics point of view." Zhiboedov expects to complete his Ph.D. in 2014.

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