By Jeremy Manier
Photos by Chris Strong

I learn so much when I teach. I think I learn more than the students do.”
—Melina Hale
associate professor

“Teaching is joyous for me,” says Prof. Cathy Cohen. The classroom brings similar happiness for Prof. Wendy Doniger. “I love seeing the students change,” Doniger says. “I enjoy their courage and their originality.”

That sense of personal connection and growth is common among the faculty members and graduate students recognized this year for their outstanding teaching. Each year, the University of Chicago bestows multiple awards honoring excellence in teaching at all levels. The commitment to recognizing and developing such work runs unusually deep at UChicago.

History of teaching awards

It began in 1938 with the creation of what would become the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching by faculty members. Next came the Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring , created in 1985 to honor the work of full-time faculty members who teach and mentor graduate students. In 1991 the University established the Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prizes for Excellence in Teaching , which recognize graduate students who contribute to the teaching of undergraduates in the College. Booth Prize winners are nominated by undergraduate students and faculty members.

The award winners are being recognized in year-end events, including a recent reception held by the College for recipients of the Quantrell Awards and Booth Prizes. The citations for the Quantrell Awards also are read at the College’s diploma ceremony on June 9, the day of the spring Convocation, and the awards are presented by President Robert J. Zimmer that day. Other teaching award recipients also are honored in connection with Convocation.

Although each award has a distinct history and traditions, they all speak to the University’s dedication to fostering a culture of teaching innovation. That idea dates to University founder William Rainey Harper, who saw excellence in teaching as essential to maintaining a globally preeminent research university. Great researchers are well-suited to teach the most recent thinking on a range of subjects, Harper believed, and having those scholars interact with inquisitive and challenging students can bring fresh ideas back into the research enterprise. “In general that investigator will accomplish most who is closely associated with a group of students,” Harper wrote.

Each of this year’s teaching honorees brings a personal devotion to helping students thrive, and to making the classroom a place of discovery for students and teachers alike. And like Prof. Cohen, for many the experience is nothing less than joyous.

Originally published on June 4, 2012.