2013-2014 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners
Five faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music received the Excellence in Teaching Award for the 2013-2014 academic year. The recipients were Associate Professor of English Jennifer Bryan; Professor of Pianoforte Sanford Margolis; Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies John Petersen; Professor of Chemistry Robert Thompson; and Professor of Conducting Tim Weiss. The Source asked the faculty members to share what this recognition means to them.
Jennifer Bryan, Associate Professor of English
Jennifer Bryan received her B.A. from Williams College and her Ph.D. from UCLA. She specializes in medieval English literature but enjoys teaching a broad range of literary topics. Bryan says she loves to team-teach, and also says she has been lucky to work with two previous award-winners, Kirk Ormand (classics) and Charles McGuire (musicology).
“When I found out about this award, I was silly with happiness for a solid week. I felt a little like Luke Skywalker in the big ceremony at the end of Star Wars Episode IV, except that I got Marvin instead of Princess Leia, and instead of blowing up the Death Star, all I did was teach Beowulf without destroying anyone’s will to live. (I actually love Beowulf.) Really, this award means a lot in a place where everyone cares so much about teaching, works so hard at it, and is so intimidatingly good at it. Later I’ll go back to my normal feelings of total inadequacy, but for now it’s lovely to be recognized by colleagues whom I so deeply admire.”
Sanford Margolis, Professor of Pianoforte
A fixture on the Oberlin piano faculty since 1972, Sanford Margolis made his debut with the Oberlin Orchestra in 1974, playing the Schönberg Concerto, Op. 42. Margolis is known for his versatility and slides easily between styles, having played jazz professionally for many years and with Latin and country and western groups, in addition to his classical repertoire. He has played concertos under the direction of Antal Doráti, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, David Zinman ’58, Robert Spano ’83, and Arthur Fiedler, among others. His work can be heard on a Naxos/American Classics recording of works by George Frederick McKay.
"I am extremely pleased to receive this teaching award. Oberlin has afforded me the opportunity, as an applied music professor, to spend substantial one-on-one time with some of the most extraordinary individuals I have been lucky enough to know. It has been impossible for me not to be enthusiastic in my teaching. I am grateful for the freedom and support offered by my department."
John Petersen, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies
A systems ecologist by training, John Petersen's research and teaching focus on understanding flows of energy, cycles of material, and feedback control mechanisms operating in environmental and social systems. He has been instrumental in developing real-time feedback display technologies for cities, organizations, and individual buildings with the goal of engaging, educating, motivating, and empowering building occupants and community members to conserve resources and develop pro-environmental attitudes.
“As an undergrad at Oberlin, I greatly valued the diversity of excellence in teaching I experienced here—it something like a wine tasting. My senior year I recall asking several of the great teachers I experienced what it would take to secure a professorship at a place like Oberlin. And here I am! I don't feel particularly worthy of being included among the distinguished group of colleagues who have received this award, but I sure feel honored!”
Robert Thompson, Professor of Chemistry
Rob Thompson has been teaching analytical chemistry, general chemistry, and other courses at Oberlin since 1982. He offers a popular, non-specialist course on chemistry and crime. Rob’s current research interests center on forensic analytical chemistry, but over his long career, he has also delved into areas such as immobilized enzymes, liquid chromatography, environmental analysis, and capsaicinoids, the hot agents of chili pepper.
“I am humbled and honored to have been nominated for the Excellence in Teaching Award by a chemistry colleague and to be chosen as an awardee by my peers across the college. The award is a testament to my longevity and my natural tendency toward tinkering. Tinkering with my teaching has led, over time, to some successful courses, pedagogies, and approaches to motivating and challenging students. I want to thank those students, my colleagues, and especially my family for their support.
“I am tremendously grateful to have had four national award-winning chemistry teachers as models and mentors during my early years: George R. Hague, Bernards High School (New Jersey); Theodore R. Williams, College of Wooster; Stanley R. Crouch, Michigan State University; and William R. Heineman, University of Cincinnati. (Notice all have the middle initial “R”—coincidence?!) Of course, award winners at Oberlin, Marty Ackermann and Norm Craig, also contributed to my success in teaching. Thanks to you all.”
Tim Weiss, Professor of Conducting
Tim Weiss is known for a repertoire in contemporary music that is vast and fearless, including masterworks, recent compositions, and an impressive number of premieres and commissions. A recipient of the Adventurous Programming Award from the American Symphony Orchestra League, his programs of broad variety are connected by similarities of voice between different composers from different genres, periods, and backgrounds, often presenting rare and revealing juxtapositions. In his 20 years as music director of the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, Weiss has brought the group to a level of artistry and virtuosity in performance that rivals the finest new music groups. At Oberlin, he helped create and mentor the ensembles eighth blackbird and the International Contemporary Ensemble. He holds degrees from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, Northwestern University, and the University of Michigan.
"I feel so honored to receive this award. I treasure my students and colleagues at Oberlin and cannot imagine teaching in a better environment, artistically or intellectually. I hope I can continue to serve the Oberlin community for many years to come."