The 2013 Winners of the Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching
Somewhere around 1,400 GSAS students serve as teaching fellows in Harvard classrooms every year. In recognition of the central role that they play in the University’s undergraduate teaching mission, the Graduate School joins annually with the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning to present the Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates. Five TFs receive the award, selected from a long list of students nominated by their departments. Winners receive a $1,000 prize, made possible by a gift from David G. Nathan, AB ’51, MD ’55, the Robert A. Stranahan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and his wife Jean Louise Friedman Nathan.
Meet the 2013 winners, who were honored alongside other talented TFs, preceptors, and instructors by the Bok Center’s Faculty Director, Robert Lue, and GSAS Dean Xiao-Li Meng at a ceremony at the end of the spring term.
Trevor Baca, Music
Trevor Baca is known throughout the Music Department — and beyond — as an extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable TF who has developed something of a cult following among undergraduates.
In nominating Baca for the award, Professor Alexander Rehding wrote that his background as an electrical engineer and his mastery of “a colorful array of languages, from Japanese to Czech” give him unique strengths as both a composer and a teacher. He is one of the few Music TFs who has taught across the board, from composition to music history to theory. He was even asked to TF for physics.
His success has helped to stimulate interest in courses that are normally small, such as Music 153, Post-tonal Analysis, whose enrollment — usually 3 to 5 — reached 8, an all-time high, when word circulated that Baca was the TF. And he won accolades for teaching the sophomore tutorial in music history, an assignment rarely given to composers. One student later wrote, “He creates an environment that facilitates interesting discussion, because no one is afraid to speak their mind. As long as we are both at Harvard, I plan to seek out and bend my schedule around those courses in which Trevor is involved.”
Erika Loic, History of Art and Architecture
Faced with the problem of being a Spanish medieval manuscript scholar leading sections for a course covering 2,700 years of Roman art, Erika Loic took a broad view. Rather than infusing sections with still more specialized information, she helped students “develop a toolkit that every budding art historian should have,” reported Professor Joseph Connors in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. She gave them an understanding of key biblical stories, a large-scale chronology, a definition of technical terms, and the ability to master library tools to improve research skills. She fostered their development not just as students in her course, but as scholars in training.
Students embraced Loic’s holistic approach, and their evaluations praised her for doing more than teaching the course material — though a number of students were delighted that she had done that so well. They commended her for teaching them how to be better students in general: for improving their writing, their presentation skills, their love for art history, and their confidence in themselves. Her advisor, Jeffrey Hamburger, wrote in his nomination that it had been a delight to watch a student whom he had mentored now become “an excellent, even exceptional, mentor in her own right.”
Ainsley Morse, Slavic
Ainsley Morse “is a born teacher, one who will succeed in bringing new students to the study of the humanities,” wrote Professor Stephanie Sandler of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in her nomination. Morse “knows what she is talking about, and can share her knowledge in ways that are infectious and memorable,” Sandler wrote.
Serving as a TF for Sandler’s General Education course “Poetry Without Borders,” Morse showed two great strengths as a teacher. The first was her rigorous and thorough preparation — worn so lightly as to always leave space for students’ own views, questions, and theories.
And the second was her “genuine, relaxed interest in the students as individuals,” Sandler wrote — “her intuitive grasp of where each one was as a reader and thinker.” Making connections for students with visiting poet-translators; providing extensive, helpful comments on papers; following up with links or articles even after the term has ended — these are some of the tangible ways that she inspires students and transmits her own passion for her subject.
Kevin Rader, Biostatistics
To his peers and faculty colleagues in the Department of Statistics, Kevin Rader is an exemplary, influential teacher whose enthusiasm and dedication are apparent every day.
As the leader of large, popular sections of the department’s core undergraduate courses, and as a key contributor to the pedagogy course for first-year graduate students, Rader has touched every aspect of the department’s teaching program. He is as effective in the classroom as he is as a mentor to other teachers.
Students call him a “natural-born teacher” and praise his calming manner and his ability to guide them through difficult problems — not by giving them the answers, but by giving them the tools to reach the answers on their own, in their own way.
His organizational skills and course management expertise are unsurpassed, and his ability to recruit and train new TFs is one of the reasons that the Stat 104 course was able to double its enrollment each semester — from 250 to approximately 500 — without a hitch. He has supervised more than 100 TFs during his time at Harvard, in the process producing section materials that all TFs can draw on.
Jacob Sanders, Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology report that Jacob Sanders is one of the most outstanding teaching fellows they have encountered. He has excelled in every class he has led, wrote Gregg Tucci, co-director of undergraduate studies in the department, and the accomplishment is made more remarkable by the diversity of subjects he has taught and the varying levels of students he has engaged.
Sanders began to teach in the department when he was still an undergraduate, and he remained a teacher for several gap years before entering the PhD program. Even then, he volunteered time to mentor new TFs as they prepared to encounter Harvard undergraduates for the first time.
He has amassed an impressive pedagogical history, collecting endorsements as he goes. As one student wrote, Sanders “single-handedly convinced me to be a chemistry concentrator. His vast knowledge of organic chemistry, his ability to clearly explain complex topics, and his extreme dedication to this class made Chem 30, in some ways, the easiest class to take.” Praising his dynamic contributions to Physical Sciences I, Professor Alan Aspuru-Guzik wrote, “Without his constant interaction, I would not have done so well with the course.”