Four faculty members recognized for outstanding teaching
by Ruth Stevens
Four Princeton faculty members received President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching at Commencement ceremonies June 2.
They are: Mitchell Duneier, professor of sociology; Eddie Glaude, the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies; Sharad Malik, the George Van Ness Lothrop Professor in Engineering and director of the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education; and Valerie Smith, the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and director of the Center for African American Studies.
The awards were established in 1991 through gifts by Princeton alumni Lloyd Cotsen ’50 and John Sherrerd ’52 to recognize excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching by Princeton faculty members. Each winner receives a cash prize of $5,000, and his or her department receives $3,000 for the purchase of new books.
A committee of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and academic administrators selected the winners from nominations by current students, faculty colleagues and alumni.
Duneier, who came to Princeton in 2003, has tripled the enrollment in introductory sociology with what one student called his “extremely engaging” lecturing style. He also teaches an annual freshman seminar on “The Ghetto” and a graduate class on “The Logic of Ethnographic Method and Writing.” This fall he will offer a new class, “Sociology From E-Street: Bruce Springsteen’s America.” Under his leadership as department representative, the number of concentrators in sociology has almost doubled over the past five years to an all-time high.
Duneier is known for sitting in a chair on the stage of McCosh 50 and delivering his lectures without notes as if he were speaking to friends. In nominating him for the award, one of his students from the introductory class wrote, “His ability to engage an entire lecture hall while still talking as if in intimate conversation is truly remarkable. Professor Duneier becomes a storyteller in the classroom, relating his and others’ experiences in the field of sociology.” A colleague added, “He has a way of connecting with students that draws them in and makes them want to learn.”
A graduate student who served as a preceptor for his introductory class wrote, “Professor Duneier inspired interest and curiosity with lectures that bound together sociological theory, insights into current events, classic works of social science and his own innovative ethnographic research.” Duneier has received international acclaim for his scholarly research and publications in the areas of race and urban ethnography, and a career award from the American Sociological Association for distinguished contributions to sociological methodology.
His classic sociological books, “Slim’s Table” and “Sidewalk,” are credited with helping bring about a resurgence of urban ethnography. In these works and a new documentary updating “Sidewalk,” he has offered a rich, insightful portrayal of those on the margins of society, defying common stereotypes. For “Sidewalk” he became a street vendor in New York, working with scavengers and panhandlers for many years. He also is the co-author of a leading introductory textbook in sociology, which he wrote as a first-year assistant professor and is used in hundreds of universities.
Another student wrote, “He makes a point of interacting with every student in the department, graduate and undergraduate alike. He makes us feel welcome when we first arrive, and he makes us feel at home throughout our time here. Professor Duneier is not simply approachable, he conveys the sense that he truly cares about each of us as students, as researchers, as individuals.”
Glaude, who earned his Ph.D. in religion from Princeton in 1996, returned to the University as a faculty member in 2002. His undergraduate courses have included “Introduction to the Study of African American Cultural Practices,” “The American Jeremiad and Social Criticism,” “Black Power and Its Theology of Liberation,” “African American Religious History” and “Pragmatism and Religion: James and Dewey.” He also has co-taught a graduate course with Cornel West, the Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies, on “Introduction to the Black Intellectual Tradition.”
Just as West served as a mentor to Glaude when he was a graduate student, Glaude is now guiding a generation of scholars with his inspiration and influence, according to his students. “He is able to articulate those abstract and unarticulated concepts that challenge contemporary ideas and ways of examining the fundamental questions of the subject area,” wrote one student in describing a class session. “His intellectual ability and gift for identifying and clarifying ideas in his own work and in his presentation that evening is indicative of his ability to consistently bring his intellect and thought process to bear on all of the material we covered in class.”
Students wrote of his dedication, in particular, to enhancing their writing skills. They recalled his offers to meet with the entire class to work on paper rewrites and his purchase of writing guides for the whole group. They also valued his one-on-one help.
“Professor Glaude sat with me during his office hours and edited my essay, line by line, sentence by sentence,” wrote one alumna. “No teacher or professor had ever done that for and with me, especially after the essay had been handed in already. That day, he proved to me that he wasn’t about assigning grades, but that he was dedicated to teaching and leading his students toward success.”
Others wrote of his commitment to not only learn from the material he teaches, but to apply the scholarship to improve lives. “It is apparent that his own motivations to research and teach this historical era are not merely academic, but that he is striving to glean lessons from the 1960s and 1970s that could apply to the contemporary situation of African Americans in U.S. society, especially in regard to poverty in inner city and rural communities,” wrote one colleague who also is a former graduate student. “Dr. Glaude inspires in his students concern not just for the historical materials under investigation, but for the well-being of our contemporary society as a whole.”
Malik has been a faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering since 1991 and director of the Keller Center since 2006. He has taught a course for nonmajors on “Principles of Computing and Connectivity,” a course for majors on “Introduction to Logic Design,” a junior course on “System Design and Analysis” and a senior course on “Computer-Aided Design of Digital Systems.” In addition, he has led a freshman writing class on “The Computing Age” and supervised undergraduate research projects. He also has taught a graduate course on “Electronic Design Automation.”
Malik already has received several awards in the School of Engineering and Applied Science for excellence in teaching. One colleague wrote, “His teaching goes beyond lucid presentations in the classroom. He has designed and implemented important new courses, has reinvigorated existing courses and has set a ‘gold standard’ of success in senior independent work.”
Several students cited the environment that Malik creates for his students. “The balance he struck in hands-on guidance where necessary and providing room to grow and freedom to explore was just right and just what I needed,” wrote one former graduate student.
An undergraduate alumnus wrote, “It was exhilarating to be the beneficiary of the high standards he set forth for both learning and teaching. I still recall the project we built and the deep satisfaction we had from making it work, using the principles we had literally just learned. Such experiences made Princeton the place where I learned how to learn, and how to love learning. In Professor Malik’s class, particularly, I learned how to work effectively in a technical team, and the magic alchemy that happens when a leader creates a positive environment for collaboration.”
Another colleague wrote about the importance of the work Malik has undertaken as director of the Keller Center to improve teaching and learning throughout the School of Engineering and Applied Science and beyond. “He has stimulated the development of new curricular and noncurricular initiatives in areas such as entrepreneurship, summer seminars, freshman seminars, experiential learning and departmental curricula,” he wrote. “He has taken seriously the charge to prepare all students, both in engineering and in the liberal arts, to be leaders in a technology-driven society.”
Smith, who also is a professor of English and the Center for African American Studies, was a faculty member at Princeton from 1980 to 1989, then returned to the University in 2000 after 11 years at the University of California-Los Angeles. She was named director of the Program in African American Studies in 2002 and founding director of the Center for African American Studies when it was established in 2006.
Her undergraduate classes have included “Religion and Resistance in Narratives of Slavery,” “Literature and Culture of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement,” “Introduction to African American Intellectual Tradition: Studies in Black Feminism,” “Novels of Toni Morrison,” “American Autobiography as History and Literature” and “Women Writers of the African Diaspora.” She also has led a graduate course on “African American Short Fiction.”
One former graduate student and current colleague wrote, “Val is a one-of-a-kind scholar who deeply enriches her students’ lives by inspiring them to think expansively, critically and passionately about African American literature and culture, feminist theory, film studies and civil rights cultural history.”
Students and colleagues alike wrote of her ability to inspire lively discussions. “I was neither intimidated nor inhibited to speak my mind in the classroom,” one undergraduate said. “Professor Smith creates an environment within a room of students that makes everyone feel like their opinions are valid, essential and beneficial to the course.”
A colleague added, “She has an amazing rapport with the students, based on an intuitive grasp of what they are saying or attempting to say, combined with the ability to restate it accurately and eloquently. She listens carefully to each student and, by the warm receptivity of her response, encourages even the reticent to speak their ideas. Her attentiveness to body language and tone is remarkably acute.”
Smith also has directed Princeton tours of civil rights movement sites in Alabama and Georgia. A graduate student who was along on one tour remembered, “Throughout the trip Val was able to unite a diverse group of retired alums, University administrators and underclassmen. This
trip is just one of the many ways Val has been a teacher without borders. Val brings the academy into the community.”