Four honored for their work mentoring graduate students

From the May 21, 2007, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Four Princeton faculty members have been named the recipients of Graduate Mentoring Awards by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and will be honored during the Graduate School's hooding ceremony on Monday, June 4.

They are: Michael Cook, the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies; Paul DiMaggio, professor of sociology; Christodoulos Floudas, the Stephen C. Macaleer '63 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical engineering; and Daniel Osherson, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Information Technology, Consciousness and Culture and professor of psychology.

The McGraw Center, together with the Graduate School, instituted the award in 2002 to recognize Princeton faculty members whose work with graduate students is particularly outstanding. It is intended to honor faculty members who nurture the intellectual, professional and personal growth of their graduate students.

Graduate students nominate faculty members for the award and, along with faculty members, serve on the committee that selects the winners. One faculty member in each academic division (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering) is chosen. In addition to being honored at the ceremony, each receives a $1,000 award and a commemorative gift.

Cook, who joined the Princeton faculty in 1986, studies Islamic history. He is particularly interested in the formation of Islamic civilization, and the role played by religious values in that process. At the graduate level, he leads a course centered on Arabic texts designed to give students practice working with primary sources. He also has taught undergraduate courses on the early centuries of Islamic history and on world history.

"My first semester here, I took Professor Cook's 'Introduction to the Islamic Scholarly Tradition,' one of the most remarkable and demanding courses I have ever had the privilege of being in," wrote one graduate student in his nomination letter. "In a mere 13 weeks, Professor Cook adeptly guided us through a massive amount of Arabic language material; it was an exhilarating, semester-long scavenger hunt that taught us how to access and use a millennium's worth of scholarship. The class -- its organization, the way the assignments from one week to the next flowed into each other, the traps he set for us to fall into -- was a work of art."

DiMaggio has been a professor of sociology at Princeton since 1992. He has researched and written extensively on topics such as organizational analysis (focusing especially on nonprofit and cultural organizations), patterns of participation in the arts, cultural conflict in the United States and the social implications of new digital technologies. He teaches courses on contemporary sociological theory, the sociology of culture and the sociology of gender.

Current and former graduate students wrote letters citing his "profound knowledge of diverse sociological traditions" as well as his devotion to his students, both in terms of the time he spends advising them and the care with which he edits their papers. One student wrote in nominating him for the award, "His humility, approachability, genuine concern for students and superb advising on all matters related to the academic profession make Paul a truly extraordinary mentor."

Floudas, a Princeton faculty member since 1986, teaches and conducts research on mathematical modeling and optimization of complex systems at the macroscopic and microscopic level. His interests lie at the interface of chemical engineering, applied mathematics, operations research and computational biology.

Those nominating him for the award mentioned Floudas' enthusiasm for his subject, his high standards and his respect for the individuality of each student. "Professor Floudas encouraged ambition, rewarded persistence and fostered independence," wrote one graduate student. "His sense of humor, professionalism and graciousness will set an example for me throughout my career."

Osherson, a faculty member since 2003, teaches undergraduate courses on "Psychology of Thinking" and "Human Identity in the Age of Neuroscience and Information Technology" and has led a graduate seminar in cognitive psychology. He has published extensively on topics such as computational learning theory, epistemology, the psychology of reasoning, language acquisition and cognitive development.

Letters from his current and former students attested to his contributions as a mentor at multiple levels. "His enthusiasm was catching, his demands uncompromising, his criteria extremely high, and his vision and ideas simply brilliant," wrote one former student. "And working with Dan as an adviser was like having a friend, a colleague and a very wise counsel. He was there unwavering, demanding and willing to devote extraordinary amounts of time and attention to our work."