May 27, 1999
University Gazette


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Students Honor Three Teachers With Levenson Awards

Alvin Powell
Contributing Writer

Three instructors from the senior faculty, the junior faculty, and the ranks of teaching fellows were recently honored for outstanding teaching by Harvard's student body with the Joseph R. Levenson Awards.

Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Leverett House Master Howard Georgi, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Michael Nakamaye, and Cabot House Tutor and Teaching Fellow in English Susan Phillips received the awards during a dinner at Eliot House on May 13.

"I think one thing that definitely comes out is that the winners are teachers who make students feel that they are the primary focus," said Noah Seton '00, president of the Undergraduate Council, which selects the winners.

Seton said this year's winners were chosen from a list of about 75 nominees. The award honoring the late history professor was established in 1982.

Georgi said it is an honor to be recognized for excellence in teaching, particularly because so many fine teachers were nominated for the award. What put him over the top, Georgi believes, was baking elliptical "relativistic chocolate chip cookies" for a physics class after covering relativity.

Georgi said he loves teaching freshmen and sophomores because they'll be around for a few years. He also said he was touched that the Leverett House students were so enthusiastic about his winning, since he's still adjusting to life as a House Master, which he began this year.

"It was absolutely wonderful to be recognized by the students," Georgi said. "It was very special to have it happen this year."

For Nakamaye, the real award is watching students' progress and establishing long-lasting friendships. Nakamaye said winning was satisfying because it involves students in a way that gaining a research grant or other academic recognition does not.

Nakamaye said he has as many office hours as possible and, last term, arranged various weekend outings with students, such as basketball and ultimate Frisbee, to get to know them better.

"This was a fantastic way to see them and get to know them in a no-stress, nonacademic setting -- this is to be highly recommended for anyone with the energy to keep up with them!" Nakamaye said.

Phillips said the award was particularly gratifying for her because she's about to complete her doctorate and head off to an assistant professor's job at the University of Iowa.

"It's a real confidence-booster going into next year," Phillips said.

Phillips, who teaches medieval literature, said she tries to ensure that the class is exciting and that students have fun -- even the ones who are there to fulfill a requirement. Phillips, who came to Harvard as an undergraduate concentrating in math, teaches the same course that convinced her to change her concentration.

"I was a math major until I took [Chaucer] as a Core course," Phillips said. "I usually say, 'This was my conversion course, and I'm not saying it will happen to you, but look out.' " END


Copyright 1999 President and Fellows of Harvard College