Graduate students honored as excellent teachers

May 28, 2010 10 a.m.

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 Teaching Awards are sponsored by the graduate alumni and are selected by the Graduate School administration. The five 2010 winners are Rosa Andújar of the classics department, Jelena Bradic of the operations research and financial engineering department, Will Bullock of the politics department, Silvia Bulow of the geosciences department and Renée Fox of the English department.

A sixth student, Siddharth Parameswaran 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 Associate of Princeton Graduate Alumni's Tribute to Teaching Reception on Saturday, May 29. Each winner will receive $1,000.

Andújar came to Princeton in 2005 after earning a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College in 2003 and a second undergraduate degree from King's College at the University of Cambridge in 2005. She was recognized by faculty members and students in the classics department for her passion for the subject matter as well as the natural abilities she expressed as an instructor. Andújar's teaching experience at Princeton has included three courses, most notably "Ancient Greek: An Intensive Introduction." According to Professor Andrew Feldherr, director of graduate studies for the classics department, Andújar is the only graduate student to whom the rigorous course -- which meets fives times per week -- has ever been entrusted. Several students from that course remarked that Andújar's enthusiastic approach to the material was her most valuable asset. "This is a long, hard class, and she has stayed really upbeat, taking all of us along with that," said one student. In his recommendation of Andújar for the teaching award, Feldherr noted that one of the keys to her effectiveness is "the seriousness with which she takes the task of teaching. … She, perhaps more than any other student I can remember in our program, knows the value of [education], and this dedication shows itself in the care and effort that goes into improving her own qualities in the classroom." Andújar is scheduled to complete her Ph.D. next year.

Bradic earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, prior to enrolling at Princeton in 2007. Bradic assisted in teaching "Fundamentals of Engineering Statistics." Philippe Rigollet, assistant professor of operations research and financial engineering, taught the course and said Bradic provided him with "by far" the "best experience with delegating work so far," adding that "every week she does a tremendous amount of work regarding several aspects of the course." Commenting on her precepts, one student said Bradic "always manages to keep them interesting" with an "ironic sense of humor, which is always appreciated in a statistics class." Other students noted Bradic's punctuality in returning graded homework assignments and exams. "We have had two Friday morning midterms … and both of them were corrected and scored by dinner time," wrote one student. Adding to this, Rigollet said, "Jelena is spectacular at having everything done according to the schedule that I prescribed. Homework [assignments] are handed in by the students on Thursday nights, and invariably she posts the solutions on Friday at noon and the grades on Tuesday night. … She will be a terrific teacher."

Bullock earned his bachelor's degree from Stanford University in 2004 and worked for two years at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., before enrolling at Princeton in 2006. He served as the lead preceptor for the introductory statistics course "Quantitative Analysis and Politics." Assistant Professor of Politics Kosuke Imai recommended Bullock for the teaching award after supervising him as a preceptor for the two semesters of the course. Imai noted that teaching this course is particularly difficult given that students take it in order to satisfy a requirement, not because they are necessarily interested in the topic. Bullock was "simply the best preceptor I have ever had during my seven years at Princeton," noted Imai. "In fact, Will is perhaps one of the most talented teachers I have ever met." Students who recommended Bullock for the award offered similar words of praise. One student wrote: "Although this was one of the toughest courses for me personally … Will did a terrific job in making the course more enjoyable and manageable." The student added, "I cannot think of a person more deserving of this teaching award."

Bulow came to Princeton in 2005 after earning her bachelor's degree at Smith College and then spending a year in Costa Rica on a Fulbright Scholarship. She served as the laboratory instructor for both sections of the course "Climate: Past, Present and Future." The course was taught for the first time in 2009, and roughly half of the labs were designed from scratch. Bulow played a significant role in designing these lab activities and in preparing the instructions, exercises and follow-up questions. In this capacity, Bulow -- who is completing her final year in the Ph.D. program -- was recognized by faculty members and students for "holding to rigorous logic" and being able to "predict how students would interpret or experience" various lab activities. In recommending Bulow for the teaching award, Daniel Sigman, the Dusenbury Professor of Geological and Geophysical Sciences, noted that Bulow was "remarkable in her intellectual and practical independence, professionalism and confidence," and added that she was "extremely talented at guiding students through the labs without removing their intellectual challenges or the sense of discovery that labs were designed to yield." One of Bulow's undergraduate students remarked that "having her as a lab instructor was great because she really enjoyed the material and made it fascinating and comprehensible."

Fox, who came to Princeton in 2003 after earning her bachelor's degree at Stanford University, has gained a reputation among faculty members and students for creating a classroom atmosphere that is equal parts educational and entertaining. In recommending her for the award, Amanda Irwin Wilkins, director of the Princeton Writing Program, said Fox "guides her students through the hard work of thinking and rethinking, writing and revising," and that she accomplishes this with "humor and unflagging persistence." Currently in her seventh year as a Ph.D. candidate, Fox has served as both preceptor and guest lecturer for courses that included "The Gothic" and "Modern Irish Drama." As a Quin Morton Teaching Fellow this year, Fox designed and led her own seminar, "Spectacle," in which students explored ostentatious spectacles as telling exaggerations of cultural anxieties, aesthetic trends and political crises. Remarking on Fox's ability to provide both guidance and independence, one of her students said, "I can't believe how Renée could be so caring, constructive and critical. I felt completely guided throughout the process, but left to my own writing style." Another student noted how Fox was "really great at stimulating conversation" and how she "made a great effort to understand where we as students were coming from. … She always managed to create a natural conversation between all the students that gave rise to some great ideas."

Parameswaran, a graduate of the University of Rochester, came to Princeton in 2006. He has been an assistant instructor for "Introduction to Quantum Mechanics," "Mechanics and Waves" and "Thermal Physics." In recommending Parameswaran for the teaching award, Professor of Physics Daniel Marlow said Parameswaran was "the best A.I. (assistant in instruction) I have had in over 20 years," and that he "combines an extremely deep and broad understanding of the material with a natural teaching ability." In speaking of Parameswaran's guidance of students through the rigorous "Thermal Physics" course, Lyman Page, the Henry De Wolf Smyth Professor of Physics who taught the course, said Parameswaran consistently went "well beyond the call of duty." To students, Parameswaran came across as not only helpful but relatable as well. One student wrote that Parameswaran was "definitely my favorite physics" A.I., adding that he was not only patient and adept at explaining complex problems, but that he was "also just a cool guy with good advice about physics and future plans."