Eight faculty members receive Weiss teaching awards

Cornell has recognized eight members of the faculty for excellence in teaching undergraduate students and contributions to undergraduate education at the university.

The Stephen H. Weiss Awards were announced Oct. 18 by President Martha E. Pollack in a report to the Cornell University Board of Trustees. The eight awardees were unanimously recommended by a selection committee composed of six faculty members and two students, who considered 37 distinguished nominees in all.

“The Weiss Awards are the highest honors Cornell confers for superb teaching,” Pollack said. “Committed, engaging and energizing, these teachers exemplify Cornell’s priority on educational verve.”

Three faculty members were recognized with Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowships, honoring tenured faculty members who have sustained records of effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching, and contributions to undergraduate education. Three professors received Stephen H. Weiss Junior Fellowship Awards, recognizing early-career tenured faculty; and two received Stephen H. Weiss Provost’s Teaching Fellowship Awards, honoring untenured faculty members.

The Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellows are Tom Gilovich, professor of psychology; Kyle Shen, professor of physics; and Kim Weeden, the Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor of the Social Sciences.

Gilovich’s teaching, in social psychology and other courses, has had a lasting and profound influence on students who went on to be professors of performance, psychology and human development – and even a national security and intelligence professional. His research “focuses on everyday human judgment: How do people assess what they and others are like, what the future has in store, and what events in the past ‘really mean’?”

He is “a scholar who brings his knowledge into the classroom in such an interesting, informative … and informal way that students not only learn for the test – they comprehend, digest and use what they were exposed to in their day-to-day life,” wrote a faculty member and former student in his letter of recommendation. “Great teachers do not tell students what to think, they help them learn how to think. That is what Tom has done at Cornell for over 35 years.”

Gilovich has taught and advised thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to small seminars, he has led large classes in statistics and social psychology, each with more than 100 students and often more than 200. He currently serves as the Irene Blecker Rosenfeld Chair of Psychology.

Shen joined the physics faculty in 2007 and has taught numerous classes, including an honors-level Introductory Mechanics and Special Relativity course, and Introductory Electromagnetism for Scientists and Engineers.

To more effectively engage the 400-plus students in the electromagnetism course, Shen developed multiple online resources, including an array of YouTube videos and pre-lecture questions to reveal which topics required clarification. Students widely praised Shen’s teaching as “inspiring, enthusiastic, engaging and well-organized.”

As director of undergraduate studies in physics from 2016 to 2019, Shen intensified efforts to recruit female and underrepresented students to the major, and introduced multiple innovations to the department including a peer-advising program and a new senior thesis option.

Shen also maintains an active research program focused on the emergent electronic and magnetic properties of quantum materials, particularly unconventional superconductors and artificially engineered atomically thin films. His research group has published more than 60 papers in leading journals and holds multiple grants, including those from the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Weeden joined the Department of Sociology in 2001 and “is an exemplary teacher and mentor,” the committee wrote.

She studies social inequality in advanced industrial societies, including gender, income, and educational inequality. Her popular undergraduate course on inequality has grown from about 50 to 225 students from across the university.

Weeden is also the director of the Center for the Study of Inequality and the faculty coordinator for Cornell’s unique multidisciplinary Minor in Inequality Studies, which currently enrolls 450 students from Cornell’s undergraduate colleges. She serves on a variety of College of Arts and Sciences and university committees.

A proponent of active learning, Weeden stresses evidence-based teaching and learning, engaging students in conducting research and interpreting the results in peer groups. As department chair, she acquired funding to institute active learning practices across the sociology curriculum.

She encourages students to research dimensions of inequality both quantitatively and qualitatively, and analyze and present their findings. “Her passion for teaching, her tolerance for a variety of viewpoints, and her ability to present [challenging] material in a humane and occasionally witty way show a master teacher at work,” the committee wrote.

The Stephen H. Weiss Junior Fellows are associate professors Stacey Langwick, anthropology; Tasha Lewis, Ph.D. ’09, fiber science and apparel design; and Courtney Roby, classics.

Langwick teaches classes on the anthropology of medicine, healing and the body; toxicity and the relationships between ecologies and health. She helped inspire a revision of her department’s curriculum by designing a large introductory class that addresses critical issues in medicine today through the lens of anthropology.

When she joined the faculty in 2006, there were no courses in medical anthropology. “She developed eight courses in that subfield, and her course Medicine, Culture and Society, with 75-100 students, became a model for courses that stand at the intersection of technical courses and qualitative social science and social theory,” the committee wrote. “Other faculty in anthropology have since developed similar courses, addressing different professions.”

Her research focuses on healing and care in East Africa. She was central in the efforts to found the Cornell Global Health Program and remains on the advisory board. She also served as lead instructor for the summer study abroad program in Tanzania.

Her students have noted her “remarkable ingenuity in shaping the classroom experience.” One wrote: “Her engaging teaching style fostered intellectual growth [and] encouraged students to be present and think critically about the material.”

Lewis has turned courses about fashion design management and the current fashion industry “into vibrant, exciting, interactive experiences for our students,” the committee wrote.

She engages students with interactive and novel teaching methods, providing a positive and inclusive class environment and helping them to develop and exhibit their creativity and communications skills.

Lewis’ classes integrate a nuanced understanding of the impact of new technologies on management issues in the apparel industry. She keeps abreast of the changes and needs in the industry through contact with alumni and professionals, and continually adjusts the program to give students the skills to be effective, valued managers.

Her research interests include the disruptive impact of technology on the industry, the behavior of fashion brands, and the significance of social responsibility and sustainability in the apparel supply chain.

“Professor Lewis functions as focal point, advocate, supporter and mentor to the management students,” the committee wrote. Her mentorship extends to advising the Cornell Fashion Industry Network, which students have revitalized under her guidance, forging strong ties with alumni and holding an annual gala showcasing alumni successes and student leadership.

Roby joined the faculty in 2011. With degrees in classics, electrical engineering and math, she has created a new area of teaching in the Department of Classics, in ancient science and technical literature.

In addition to teaching traditional courses in classics and Medieval studies, she has created innovative new courses, including Data Corruption’s Deep History; The Technology of Ancient Rome; Ancient Medicine; and the award-winning The Art of Math, co-taught with associate professor of music Andrew Hicks.

Roby has employed nontraditional tools and methods in her classes, such as using a Roman surveying instrument to lay out a half-scale Roman building on a football pitch; and a field trip to Cornell Botanic Gardens to view plants identified in ancient pharmacology texts, then analyzing the plants in a lab to test their efficacy as ancient remedies.

Colleagues and students alike consider Roby an outstanding adviser and mentor; and a “creative, thoughtful and original teacher who brings together disciplines in ways that are utterly unique.” Her research interests focus on the literary aspects of scientific and technical texts from the ancient world, and the interaction of verbal and visual elements in those texts.

The Stephen H. Weiss Provost’s Teaching Fellows are Philip Krasicky, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics; and Cindy van Es, professor of practice in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Krasicky was recognized for outstanding achievements in introductory course instruction, curriculum development, outreach, and faculty and TA mentoring in teaching, as well as his engaging and effective classes and labs.

Using evidence-based methods, he transformed the large (200 to 300 students) core course in mechanics, flipping the classroom and engaging students to better prepare them for advanced work.

Colleagues and students praised his labs and lectures, which incorporate demonstrations that make “difficult concepts in physics come to life.” For the past 12 years, he has presented some of his favorite hands-on ways to witness the wonders of physics in a popular annual program for alumni at Reunion Weekend.

In 31 years as a teacher, van Es has numerous teaching and advising awards, including being a 10-time Merrill Presidential Scholar honoree.

The committee noted that van Es “has shown outstanding classroom teaching in statistics with very large introductory classes as well as in moderate and small upper level classes [and] has been active in teaching others to teach while creating innovative curricula. She has been a leader in developing courses that champion diversity and inclusion.”

She also initiated an innovative engaged learning program centered on a trip to South Africa, to work on real-world projects with small businesses. Seven-week courses before and after the trip provided students with cultural and historical perspectives, and opportunity for reflection on the experience.

Established in 1992, the Weiss Presidential Fellowship was conceived by the late Stephen H. Weiss ’57, chairman emeritus of the board of trustees, to recognize tenured Cornell faculty members for teaching and mentoring undergraduates. The Junior Fellowship and Provost’s Teaching Fellowship Awards were established in 2016.

This story originally appeared in The Cornell Chronicle.

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