Edo Berger, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences, and Anne Pringle, an associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, have been named the recipients of this year’s Fannie Cox Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching.
Established through a gift from Gardner Hendrie ’54, the prize is awarded annually in recognition of exceptional teaching in introductory courses; it carries a $10,000 personal award and $40,000 in unrestricted support for teaching and research. A faculty committee with members from across the sciences at Harvard nominated Berger and Pringle; Jeremy Bloxham, dean of science and Mallinckrodt Professor of Geophysics and professor of computational science, made the selections.
“Edo Berger and Anne Pringle are great examples of the excellent teaching that happens in Harvard’s classrooms on a daily basis,” said FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, also the John H. Finley Jr. Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “As comments from their students show, both have an infectious enthusiasm for their fields, and for instilling a passion for science in students. I hope their colleagues in the faculty will join me in congratulating them for this well-deserved honor.”
In a letter to faculty announcing the awards, Bloxham cited the professors’ hands-on approaches to teaching, as well as the high praise offered by their students.
“He clearly has fun teaching the class, which is a very motivating feeling for the students as well,” one student wrote about Berger. Another described Pringle as “irrepressibly enthusiastic and innovative.” Both also received praise for their commitment to students, whether it was offering extra help or delving into subjects in greater detail to ensure students understood specific concepts.
“I was extremely pleased to find out about receiving this award,” Berger said. “In my opinion, the Fannie Cox Prize sends an important message: that teaching is not only central to the success of our students but also enhances the experience of the faculty. … It also demonstrates that Harvard is committed to and values quality teaching.”
Though research is often thought of as a key part of the sciences, Berger uses his classes to bridge the gap between teaching and research by giving students hands-on experiences in obtaining and analyzing astronomical observations. The class includes a weeklong trip to the Whipple Observatory in Arizona, where students operate research telescopes to pursue their own projects.
“I find that by teaching such a research-oriented course I have become more attuned to introducing students to research, and making it accessible to nonexperts,” Berger said. “I have to say that watching the students’ excitement when they operate a large research telescope for the first time brings me enormous joy, and revives in me that feeling of excitement of first doing research.”
Berger said he plans to use the award to continue those efforts, and will set aside a large portion of the funding to support trips to observatories in Chile and Arizona for undergraduate students who work with his research group.
“This will give them a chance to use some of the world’s biggest telescopes, and to participate firsthand in the life of an astronomer,” he said.
“I have lovely memories of teaching at Harvard, including taking students through local habitats to teach about biodiversity, and collaborating with students to stage Harvard’s first-ever ‘Fungus Fair,’” said Pringle. “The prize is a super acknowledgement of the efforts [interim Harvard College Dean] Donald Pfister and I put into our class on fungi, and I’m glad to know my freshman seminar on the evolution of aging was also a success.”
Pringle said she plans to use the award to take her entire laboratory to an international conference in Thailand, allowing them to strengthen contacts in Asia and showcase their work to an audience they don’t normally reach.