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Three Professors Receive Distinguished Teaching Award

Posted April 19, 2000

In nearly everyone's life there was a special teacher, one who brought inspiration and enlightenment to the classroom.

On April 25, three such instructors will receive the Distinguished Teaching Award, the campus's highest prize for teaching. Since 1959, when the award first was given, only 191 of the 4,000 professors who have taught at Berkeley have won.

The winners -- Claire Kramsch, professor of German; Nilabh Shastri, professor of molecular and cell biology; and Eleanor Swift, professor of law -- will be honored at a 5 p.m. ceremony in Zellerbach Playhouse.

At Berkeley, a professor's responsibilities are threefold -- research, teaching and service. But it's usually research that brings a professor recognition, said Jasper Rine, chairman of the committee that selected the awardees and a professor of molecular and cell biology.

"Teaching is one of those things that, to do it well, requires an enormous amount of effort and is recognized only by the students," he said. "And accolades are not received through any conventional means."

The Distinguished Teaching Award, said Rine, "represents these selfless, unsung efforts."

Claire Kramsch
Department of German

Tough, but exciting and popular, is the way students describe Claire Kramsch, a Berkeley professor of German and education since 1989. And that's "a sign of an excellent teacher," said Daniel Wilson, chairman of the German department in the College of Letters & Sciences. "Students come from far afield to study with her, and they rave about her classes."

Raised in France, Kramsch said she follows the French model of teaching, which makes little distinction between teaching and research. "I can't imagine teaching anything that I haven't discovered for myself," she said.

Kramsch is known on the national and international language scenes for her work in applied linguistics and second-language learning. Her 1993 book, "Context and Culture in Language Teaching," is considered a pioneering attempt to re-conceptualize foreign language teaching as the crossing of cultural boundaries. In 1998, she won the Goethe Medal from the Federal Republic of Germany for work to foster inter-cultural dialogue.

As a youth in France, Kramsch's foreign language options were German or English. She chose German, although, she said, "it was the language of the enemy, it was the language hated by my (Jewish) grandparents."

Today, Kramsch is working on a book about authors such as Berkeley lecturer Maxine Hong Kingston, who write in a language that is not their native tongue.

She also is director of the Berkeley Language Center, which offers language and language teaching resources to students and instructors.

Kramsch's students are awed by "how many projects she can successfully juggle at once, and how she still finds time to bake quiches and invite us all over to her house on a regular basis," said Margaret Perrow, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Education.

"When I once asked her how she integrated theoretical reading into a busy research and teaching schedule," Perrow said, "she laughed and said, 'Theory is my bedtime reading!' "

Nilabh Shastri
Molecular & Cell Biology

Nilabh Shastri, educated in India, strives to be more than just a teacher in the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology. He wants to be a guru.

"A guru," the associate professor said, "is one of the most revered individuals in society in the Indian tradition -- a personal instructor, but one who was historically reserved only for royalty. I believe students at Berkeley deserve no less."

In line with the guru tradition, Shastri said he makes a special effort to get to know his students, despite the large size of lecture classes. "I attempt to bring discourse to a personal level," he said.

"Dr. Shastri was a great mentor to me," said Andrea Itano, one of Shastri's former students. A graduate student instructor for Shastri, Itano said he showed her how to lead a productive discussion section, design test questions and organize a class syllabus.

"These are all things that benefit a student who wishes to go into teaching someday," said Itano, who now works at the University of Minnesota's Center for Immunology.

In lecture classes, Shastri's students appreciate the everyday examples he uses to explain difficult scientific concepts, such as immunological phenomena. "They were the kind that made students say, 'Ah! THAT'S how it works,' " said Itano.

In describing important accomplishments in the field, Shastri would move beyond the obvious, providing the history behind the experiments, their rationale and sometimes even information about the researchers.

"Professor Shastri's genius as a teacher derives from a rare talent for explicating difficult materials," said David Raulet, head of the campus's division of immunology, "a natural ability to connect with his students, and a steadfast dedication to improve the quality of his teaching."

Eleanor Swift
School of Law

A professor of law at Boalt Hall since 1979, Eleanor Swift said she incorporates three perspectives -- theoretical, professional and ethical -- in teaching courses on the adversary system of justice.

"My aim," she said, "is to introduce students to the practice of law under a system of rules, to develop their ability to critique those rules, and to enable them to experience the ethical dilemmas of lawyers acting in role."

Matthew Kline, a 1999 graduate, said Swift's three-pronged approach "not only made me a far better lawyer -- more careful, diligent, thoughtful and precise -- but her extracurricular guidance helped me shape my career and life as a lawyer.

"The lasting imprint of her message, moreover, makes me want to use my legal education to make the world a slightly better place."

Swift, today an associate dean, made a lasting contribution to the law school's teaching mission through her work in helping to establish in 1998 the law school's Center for Clinical Education. There, students get experience practicing law in the areas of international human rights and federal criminal practice.

Dean Herma Hill Kay said Swift is "all business" in the classroom. "She starts at the most basic level of detail -- what happened," said Kay. "Then, she proceeds in an orderly manner to the highest level of abstraction. She is an excellent classroom teacher, one who uses the Socratic method in a constructive way."

Added Professor Marjorie Shulz, Swift's colleague, "Swift is a master teacher who knows every inch of her craft, uses it to its fullest, and is capable not only of modeling outstanding teaching, but also of advising others about how to do it better. She is a tremendous resource for the campus in the art of teaching."

The Distinguished Teaching Award is given by the Committee on Teaching, a committee of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. The April 25 ceremony, which is open to the public, also will honor this year's recipient of Berkeley's Educational Initiatives Award -- the College of Natural Resources for its "American Environmental and Cultural History" course.

Remarks will be given by Chancellor Berdahl; Christina Maslach, vice-chairman of the Academic Senate; Assistant Provost Nicholas Jewell; and Alfredo Terrazas, president of the California Alumni Association.




April 19-26, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 29)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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