Four Princeton University faculty members received President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching at Commencement ceremonies Tuesday, May 24.
They are Anne Cheng, professor of English; Lauren Coyle Rosen, assistant professor of anthropology; Peter Ramadge, the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Matt Weinberg, assistant professor of computer science.
The awards were established in 1990 through a gift by Princeton alumni Lloyd Cotsen of the Class of 1950 and John Sherrerd of the Class of 1952 to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching by Princeton faculty members. Each winner receives a cash prize of $5,000, and their departments each receive $3,000 for the purchase of new books.
A committee of faculty, academic administrators, undergraduates and graduate students selected the winners from nominations by students, faculty colleagues and alumni.
A member of the faculty since 2006, Cheng is an interdisciplinary and comparative race scholar who focuses on the intersection between politics and aesthetics, drawing from literary theory, race and gender studies, film and architectural theory, legal studies, psychoanalysis, and critical food studies. She is a member of Princeton’s Class of 1985.
Cheng, who was critical in designing Princeton’s Asian American studies curriculum, is known for the innovative and wide-ranging resources she draws on for her courses. “Her courses were the most inventive and engaging seminars I took at Princeton, and their range and focus expanded my sense of what literary studies could be,” said an alumnus now earning a Ph.D. He described her teaching style as “boundlessly creative and intellectually playful.”
An alumnus who is now an English professor remarked on her ability “to craft a space — intellectual, physical and digital — for students to critically approach scholarly questions via creative means.”
A colleague noted that “she is able to teach popular topics without compromising her belief that students thrive when they are confronted with materials that demand a rigorous and sustained conceptual engagement.”
Drawing on subjects as diverse as food, art, film, pop culture and legal rulings, “she helped us see that literature is never produced in a vacuum, that the story of race, of our understanding of the psyche, and our concept of the nation can and should be thought about together,” a student said.
Lauren Coyle Rosen
Coyle Rosen’s research and teaching interests lie at the intersections of legal and political anthropology, comparative religion and spirituality, aesthetics and consciousness, subjectivity and epistemology, and critical theory.
Since joining the faculty in 2016, she has engaged students in the classroom in a way that that they find challenging and rewarding. “Professor Coyle has a magical way of extracting the impact of every text we read,” said one student. She pushed the class “to read deeply into the ethnographers’ intentions and mindset” and to explore whether the “paths and methods and ethical stances they took would be the same as our own.”
“In addition to being an exceptional listener, Lauren is adept at offering practical and constructive advice that allows students to push the boundaries of their established thought processes and grow as scholars, community members and human beings,” said an alumna who earned a Ph.D.
“So much of what I love about anthropology came from my classes with Professor Coyle,” an alumnus said. “I attribute much of my success as a student in the anthropology department to Professor Coyle’s wisdom and guidance, and I cannot think more highly of her as an educator, a voice of inspiration and an intellectual powerhouse.”
Colleagues and students noted that the combination of her legal degree and Ph.D. provided valuable expertise. One colleague remarked that she helped students “cultivate an ethic of curiosity and craft critical tools to engage our worlds on edge — always with an eye toward the plight of vulnerable communities and just horizons.”
The detailed lecture notes that Ramadge distributes every week are legendary. They have proved to be indispensable to the many students who have taken his courses over the years since Ramadge, whose scholarship focuses on signal processing and machine learning, joined the faculty in 1984.
“The level of preparation and care he puts into his lectures is unparalleled,” one graduate student said. He makes the material “accessible for all students, yet interesting and engaging at the deepest levels.” Another agreed: “Professor Ramadge has an extraordinary ability to break down technical material in a way that is easy to understand.”
An undergraduate with a casual interest in machine learning took Ramadge’s class and found it to be “one of the most mathematically rigorous and conceptually challenging courses that I have taken in my Princeton career.” Nevertheless, he ended up relishing the challenge and elected to write his thesis on the subject, with Ramadge as his adviser.
Ramadge is also known for frequently revising his course materials. “Peter never stops improving the class,” said one of his graduate students, who, when serving as a teaching assistant, realized that Ramadge had made teaching “look effortless. Peter has been one of my greatest inspirations when it comes to teaching.”
An advisee who is pursuing a Ph.D. was grateful for his incisive feedback. “He spends a tremendous amount of time reading my paper drafts and comes up with crystal-clear writing,” he said. The long journey of graduate school “would not have been possible without the support from my adviser, Professor Peter J. Ramadge.
Weinberg’s dedication to undergraduate students is evident in the number he has advised on thesis work or one-semester projects: more than 60 in just the five years since he joined the computer science department in 2017, well outside the norm. Weinberg, whose scholarship focuses on algorithmic mechanism design, is just as committed to mentoring his graduate students, who rave about how generous he is with his time and his dedication to assisting them develop as researchers.
“Matt is a phenomenal adviser: invested in his students, enthusiastic about their work and understanding about their struggles and lives,” one undergraduate said. “When explaining concepts I had trouble understanding, Matt would try to explain in two or three ways — sometimes drawing pictures, sometimes giving toy examples, sometimes by writing out the mathematical formulation.”
Many students remarked that Weinberg has helped them embrace a positive attitude about their work. One graduate student said he taught her to view the unsuccessful conclusion of a project “not as a personal failure but as a guidance for future research.”
An alumna spoke of her decision to undertake a thesis project, though it was not required for her major, because she was so enthusiastic about the prospect of working with Weinberg. Their meetings often ran way over the allotted time so he could continue offering advice. “He has squeezed me in for last-minute meetings when I’m feeling stuck and lost,” she said. “I am eternally grateful for all that Matt has given me.”