Debenedetti, Wolfson to receive Phi Beta Kappa teaching awards

May 26, 2016 2:21 p.m.

The Princeton University chapter of Phi Beta Kappa will present its annual awards for excellence in undergraduate teaching to Pablo Debenedetti, dean for research, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical and biological engineering (CBE), and Susan Wolfson, professor of English.

The awards will be bestowed at the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony, which will be held at 8:45 a.m. Monday, May 30, in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall, immediately preceding the graduating seniors' Class Day ceremony.

The students define the criteria for excellence in teaching as skill in instruction, commitment to working with and building relationships with undergraduates, and the ability to spark students' intellectual interests. Each winner is presented with a plaque.

Debenedetti joined the Princeton faculty in 1985. His research addresses the properties of water and aqueous systems, and their applications in areas ranging from the long-term preservation of pharmaceutical compounds to water desalination.

In addition to Debenedetti's research leadership, seniors Kevin Silmore and Elizabeth Banes paid tribute to him as "a truly exceptional and inspiring teacher here at Princeton." Banes wrote in the citation for the award, "Dean Debenedetti has made a name for himself as the kind, yet challenging lecturer of 'Introduction to Thermodynamics,' a prerequisite course for all CBE majors. Though many consider 'Thermodynamics' to be the most difficult CBE undergraduate course, Dean Debenedetti's thoughtful, meticulously planned lectures and his uncanny ability to clarify some of the most challenging concepts to newcomers to the field have brought enjoyment and learning to those embarking on this path of study."

Banes also valued Debenedetti's qualities as a mentor to generations of Princeton students. "On weekdays, Dean Debenedetti will often be found holding personal office hours into the late evening, guiding any student in need of help through the complex web of thermodynamical concepts. Numerous students over the years have expressed their gratitude for his selflessness and humility."

Debenedetti's honors include the Engineering Council's Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Benjamin Garver Lamme Award from the American Society of Engineering Education, and the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton. He received his B.S. from Buenos Aires University in Argentina and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wolfson has spent her 25-year career at Princeton inspiring students and, through her "genuine love for teaching," advancing their "personal and scholarly growth," wrote senior Eu Na Noh.  Wolfson joined the Princeton faculty in 1991, and her research has focused on British literature, specializing in Romanticism and Romantic-era writers.

Noh cited Wolfson's "generosity and compassion" as reasons for selecting her for the teaching award. She commended Wolfson for investing tremendous amounts of time and thought in her students' work. "What truly amazes me is that every piece of writing that I submitted to her — regardless of length — was returned to me promptly … with incisive comments on almost every sentence and multiple pages of suggestions."

Noh praised Wolfson as "an innovator: she devotes much of her time and energy to elevating Princeton's English program to the next level, both to make it more accessible to students outside the department as well as to bring more depth and variety to department-specific courses and projects."

Among her many honors, Wolfson was the president of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, and she serves on the board of directors for the Keats-Shelley Association of America and was named its distinguished scholar. She earned her bachelor's and doctoral degrees from the University of California-Berkeley.