Seven graduate students celebrated for excellence in teaching

The Graduate School has honored seven graduate students for its annual Teaching Awards in recognition of their outstanding abilities as teachers.

The awardees are Alexander Davis from the Department of Sociology, Steven Jackson from the Department of Physics, Alexandra Piotrowski from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Danielle Santiago Ramos from the Department of Geosciences, Alexander Rodnyansky from the Department of Economics, Jill Stockwell from the Department of Comparative Literature, and Anne Truetzel from the Department of Classics.

Winners were selected by a committee chaired by the dean of the Graduate School and comprised of the academic affairs deans and staff from the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. The pool of nominees was put forth by departments and programs.

On April 22, the Graduate School presented the awards at the Tribute to Teaching Reception, hosted by Dean of the Graduate School Sanjeev Kulkarni. Each winner will receive $1,000.

Davis is a sixth-year graduate student in sociology and earned his bachelor's degree in sociology and psychology from James Madison University and master's degree in sociology from Princeton. He is being honored as a Quin Morton Teaching Fellow in the Princeton Writing Program for his work in his writing seminar, "The Politics of Intimacy." Associate Director for Princeton Writing Program Keith Shaw said, "He finds unique and compelling ways to model his passion for his own scholarship in ways his students find infectious, with the consequence of motivating them to develop the skill set necessary to excel as university-level writers." In his writing seminar, Davis instructively exploits the intersection of the very public legal framework governing sexual practices with the very private nature of those practices. Davis was credited with motivating his students to view their peers as crucial sources of feedback rather than potential adversaries, and successfully producing a small community of scholars that would not have been possible without his guidance. Davis expects to complete his Ph.D. in 2015.

Jackson, a fifth-year graduate student in physics, holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from Williams College and a master's degree in physics from Princeton. He is being recognized for his work in several courses including "General Physics" I and II, "Advanced Physics (Electromagnetism)," and "Mechanics and Waves." Said Lecturer in Physics Katerina Visnjic, who has worked with Jackson since 2013: "I was immediately impressed with the thoroughness of Steven's explanations and his ease in interacting with students. It is clear that he loves teaching and has shown great dedication to his students, beyond what is expected of him." One student commented, "One of the best things about Steven is that he doesn't just provide the answer when you get stuck on the section of a lab, but knows which questions to ask about the physics principles behind your problem so that you can figure out your own solution." Another student added, "He always teaches in a way that treats us like mature adults but at the same time pushes us to try to understand the material and assumptions more thoroughly." Jackson expects to complete his Ph.D. in 2016.

Piotrowski is a fourth-year graduate student in chemical and biological engineering. She received her bachelor's degree in chemical-biological engineering and biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her master's degree in chemical and biological engineering at Princeton. She was a preceptor for "Quantitative Principles in Cell and Molecular Biology," led by Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Director of the Program in Engineering Biology Celeste Nelson. Wrote Nelson: "The fall 2014 semester of MOL 215 was a huge success (our score for 'Overall Quality of Course' was 4.22, the highest of all the core courses in both the MOL and CBE departments, and our highest score ever), and Alex was no small part of that. Her performance in teaching the course would be enough to nominate her for any AI [Assistant in Instruction] award. But her dedication to teaching at Princeton is even greater — she has served as AI a total of five times during three and a half years at Princeton (including twice for MOL 215), not because she needed to, but because she wanted to." One student wrote, "As a first-generation college student, I've been intimidated by the number of resources available, and frankly, I'm unsure how to utilize most of them.... I could tell (Alex) every day how much I appreciate all that she has done, as well as say 'thank you' a thousand times over, but I want others to know how much of a positive impact she has had on my experience here at Princeton, as well as my life." Piotrowski expects to complete her Ph.D. in 2016.

Ramos is a second-year graduate student in geosciences and received her bachelor's degree in geology from Amherst College. She is being honored with a teaching award for her work in "Fundamentals of Solid Earth Science." Ramos helped lead the course's two-night field trip to the Catskills to explore the geology and history of the eastern North America. Jessica Irving, assistant professor of geosciences, noted: "Dani proved herself to be an adept teacher in the field as in the classroom, and I found that I, too, learned from her during the trip! Dani was eager to ensure the students enjoyed what was, for many of them, their first field experience and I'm sure that helped some of the students decide that their future lies in geology and the broader geosciences." Laurel Goodell, academic lab manager, said: "She works exceptionally well with undergraduates. Her friendly, approachable manner puts students at ease. She instinctively knows 'where the undergraduates are coming from' and is able to correct their misconceptions, see where the issues are and tailor her instruction appropriately." One student simply stated, "Undoubtedly, I would not have performed as well as I did or have learned as much in GEO 203 had it not been for Dani." Ramos expects to complete her Ph.D. in 2018.

Rodnyansky, a fourth-year graduate student in economics, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is being recognized for his work teaching "Financial Investments." Said Harrison Hong, the John H. Scully '66 Professor in Finance: "Alex excelled in all aspects, from his excellent precepts to his attention to detail in helping myself and Yacine Ait-Sahalia [the Otto A. Hack '03 Professor of Finance and Professor of Economics] prepare for the class. Alex is one of the two best AIs I have had at Princeton over the last 15 years." A student explained, "An effective instructor must demonstrate an ability to help his students to the utmost of his ability, and Alex certainly fit that mold during the fall." Another student added: "I would like to state that Mr. Rodnyansky was a professional, relaxed and very dedicated preceptor, whose crafted slides were immaculate. He put a great deal of effort to make sure his students understand the principles and provided ample supply of examples. His teaching was a two-way street, due to his insisting on interaction and students' learning by doing." Rodnyansky expects to complete his Ph.D. in 2016.

Stockwell is a fifth-year graduate student in comparative literature and she holds an A.B. from Harvard University in the comparative study of religion. She is being recognized for her work in teaching "Introduction to Comparative Literature" and "Growing up Global: Novels and Memoirs of Transnational Childhoods." In her nomination, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and African American Studies Wendy Belcher wrote, "Ms. Stockwell is not just the best assistant instructor I've ever had, but an outstanding teacher in every way." Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Comparative Literature Benjamin Conisbee Baer continued: "Ms. Stockwell always went above and beyond what was necessary to precept my 'Introduction to Comparative Literature' course. From her brilliant suggestions for additions to the syllabus (several of which we used to great success) to her questions for students and contributions to discussion, she was a dream preceptor." One student commented: "Jill is a phenomenal teacher. She knows exactly how to connect with every student in the room in order to bring the best out of them. She has exceptional command of the classroom, and has a flair for facilitating meaningful, thought-provoking discussion. She is by far, the best preceptor I have had during my four years at Princeton." Stockwell expects to complete her Ph.D. in 2017.

Truetzel, a fourth-year graduate student in classics, double majored in economics and classical languages as an undergraduate at Duke University. At Princeton, she served as teaching assistant for "The Greek World in the Hellenistic Age" and "Ovid's 'Metamorphoses.'" In his nomination letter, Director of Graduate Studies and Professor in Classics Andrew Feldherr wrote: "Annie has taught for us twice over the past year. Her first assignment was as a preceptor in our lecture course on Hellenistic Greek history under Brent Shaw. Then in the fall she taught with me in an advanced Latin course. Though neither of these very different courses fell within Annie's field of concentration, her performance in each was exemplary in its combination of professionalism and authority with a profound generosity towards her students." Brent Shaw, the Andrew Fleming West Professor in Classics, added: "My inspection of Annie's precepts revealed a teacher who was fully engaged with the students and who was able both to bring them along in the understanding of the material — not an easy task, since the history of this period is rather disjointed and fragmented — and ready to provoke them to think beyond the bounds of the classroom lectures and reading materials." Truetzel expects to complete her Ph.D. in 2017.