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Four UC Berkeley faculty members to receive coveted Distinguished Teaching Award on April 25
23 April 2001

Media Relations

Berkeley - This week, four University of California, Berkeley, faculty members will receive the Distinguished Teaching Award, the campus's highest honor for teaching. Since 1959, when the award first was given, only 194 of the 4,000 faculty members who have taught at UC Berkeley have received it.

The recipients - Sara Beckman, Carolyn Bertozzi, Seda Chavdarian and Ronald Gronsky - will be honored on Wednesday, April 25, at a 5 p.m. ceremony in Zellerbach Playhouse.

Jasper Rine, a UC Berkeley professor who chairs the committee that awards the prize, said faculty members cherish the Distinguished Teaching Award because students, in large measure, select the winners.

"All courses and professors at Berkeley are evaluated by the students in those courses," he said, "and they hold us to a high standard, as they should." Course evaluations are heavily considered in the selection process.

The ceremony also will honor psychology professor Martin Covington with the Presidential Chair in Undergraduate Education for his proposal for a program to help instructors address fear-of-failure dynamics among university students and strengthen students' will to learn - even in the absence of tangible payoffs, such as grades.

The annual Educational Initiatives Award will be given the College of Chemistry for its Digital Chem 1A class - a Webcast course that allows students to listen to lectures, participate in class discussions, take quizzes and receive grades from home - and to the Department of Anthropology, where instructors have incorporated a wide variety of multimedia into the teaching of anthropology and, especially, archaeology.

The 2001 Distinguished Teaching Award winners

Sara Beckman
Haas School of Business

Sara Beckman said her entry into teaching was almost accidental. At age 22, as a teaching assistant at Stanford University, she told a ranking faculty member that the course was big on jokes but short on teaching. After being asked to prove she could do it better, she wound up teaching the same course the next semester.

Her popularity in the classroom, she said, "is in part because I like exploring ideas and learning myself. I have a real interest in exploring a topic with students who are interested."

On the Haas School faculty since 1988, Beckman is a senior lecturer in manufacturing and information technology, teaching introductory operations management and new product development. Her creative approach to teaching MBA students can be seen in her new product development course. Students organize themselves into teams to develop a product idea and finish with a prototype. Results have included a mat that folds into a children's play structure and a spill-proof portable coffee mug that attaches to backpacks by a carabiner clip.

Beckman has been a research advisor/collaborator for the last two years with Chad White, a doctoral student in environmental policy. He's one of her biggest fans.

"Sara is a thoughtful listener and level-headed researcher," White said. "She is methodical yet creative; patient and inspirational. It is Sara's thoughtful contemplation, insight, loving but firm manner that make her such an exceptional teacher. "

Carolyn Bertozzi
College of Chemistry

Carolyn Bertozzi's teaching success stems from approaching class as if it were a small laboratory group meeting - even when the associate professor of chemistry is lecturing to 600 students.

"Teaching is trying to convey information," she said, "and, when you're a scientist, that is what you do for a living - you make discoveries and then you teach them to the world."

Students in Bertozzi's undergraduate and graduate organic chemistry classes say her enthusiasm is infectious.

"Her explanations were always crystal clear, making a difficult class a lot easier," said John Weedin, who took organic chemistry from Bertozzi last year and started working in her lab last summer. "She's very dynamic, very colorful."

You won't catch Bertozzi shunning traditional teaching aids, even as high-tech, multimedia teaching increasingly becomes part of her classroom. "It's going to be hard to pry me away from a piece of chalk and a blackboard," she said. "There is something very physical about it. When I'm lecturing with chalk on a board, it gets me revved up."

Her teaching style is particularly suited to organic chemistry, where students must grasp numerous concepts, chemical structures and chemical reactions.

"Organic chemistry is all about seeing things in space, and drawing pictures and drawing structures, envisioning how electrons are moving in space," she said. "It's very visual, and you have to write it down to learn it. Only then will you have an intuition about how chemical transformations occur."

Seda Chavdarian
Department of French

After observing the joy that her parents and grandparents experienced teaching, and listening to relatives speak French, which Seda Chavdarian calls "the most beautiful language," this third generation teacher said she couldn't have chosen any other career. Since 1988, she has been a lecturer by choice in the College of Letters & Science's French department, believing that professorships take too much time away from dealing directly with students.

Always on the move, never seated behind a desk, she strives to engage her primarily undergraduate students. "I don't teach grammar in a vacuum. They're learning new ways of thinking and a new culture by learning a new language," she said.

Lital Levy, a graduate student in comparative literature who took three courses with Chavdarian, said she's never known an instructor with "a deeper love for the material, a more unflagging enthusiasm for teaching, or a more sincere interest in her students." And, Levy never left the teacher's class without a smile on her face.

"She's dynamite, just pure energy from the first second of class to the end," added Richard Kern, a UC Berkeley associate professor of French. "She's really in her element when she's with her students."

"While the class is conducted entirely in French, she will make students laugh after they have been studying the language for only a few weeks," said Françoise Sorgen-Goldscmidt, professor of French. "This is a most empowering experience for novice learners, who find satisfaction, pride, and even joy as they realize how well they can already function in their new language."

Ronald Gronsky
Department of Materials Science & Engineering

"He brings his subject to life. His lectures are always exciting, and his door is always open." That's how Caroline Lau, a fourth-year materials science undergraduate describes Ronald Gronksy, professor of materials science and engineering.

Within a few moments of meeting Gronsky, it's easy to glimpse his superior teaching style by observing how he gestures, enunciates new terms distinctly, and reaches for props to help explain his topic.

"The most challenging aspect is finding the examples that help students assimilate the complex ideas in material science," said Gronsky, who constantly is thinking of new ways to relate how the microscopic structure of materials affects their use in everything from bridges to computer circuits.

To illustrate a concept, such as how metals react to external stresses, Gronksy invites a relatively petite student to bend a copper rod, which he or she can do with ease. Next, he asks one of the strongest students to make the rod straight again, which, despite his or her might, is very difficult to do.

"There are few people who can deliver a lecture, seminar or scientific paper with the enthusiastic intensity that professor Gronsky exhibits," said Douglas W. Fuerstenau, a professor emeritus of materials science and engineering who himself won the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1974.

As an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, Gronsky tutored local high school students. While earning his PhD at UC Berkeley in the 1970s, Gronsky asked for teaching assistantships, unlike many of his fellow graduate students who believed teaching interfered with their research.

He began his UC Berkeley career as a lecturer in 1978, becoming a full-time faculty member in 1988. One year later, he was appointed chair of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, a position he held for six years. He is the Arthur C. & Phyllis G. Oppenheimer Chair in Advanced Materials Analysis.

The Distinguished Teaching Award is given by the Committee on Teaching, a committee of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. The committee bases its decisions after reviewing letters of nomination, student course evaluations, the teacher's statement on teaching philosophy, course materials and visits to the nominees' classes.

The award includes a certificate and $3,000 from the campus.

The committee also selects the winners of the Presidential Chair in Undergraduate Education and the Educational Incentives Award.

The Presidential Chair has a three-year appointment and awards up to $30,000 to encourage the development of new courses or to enhance the quality of already existing courses, thus improving undergraduate education on campus.

Covington's proposal is called "Is There Life After Grades? Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation in Large-Enrollment, Lower Division Courses."

The Educational Initiatives Award is presented annually to a department or unit that has created an outstanding program or initiative that makes a significant contribution to undergraduate education. Awardees receive $10,000 each. In Digital Chem 1A, lecturer Mark Kubinec and professor Alexander Pines have transformed the traditional delivery of Chemistry 1A, which a required course for some 2,000 science and engineering majors.

The Multimedia Authoring Initiative at the Department of Anthropology is under the director of professors Margaret Conkey, Rosemary Joyce and Ruth Tringham. Students learn a variety of software programs to use in presenting content-rich projects that engage students with archaeological concepts, theories, discoveries and cultural histories.

You can read more about the Distinguished Teaching Award and its past recipients at