By News Office staff | Photos by Robert Kozloff
The Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring recognizes regular, full-time faculty members in the four divisions and the Divinity School for exemplary graduate teaching.
Leora Auslander is known for her teaching and mentoring of students. In her 27 years on the teaching faculty with the Department of History, she has been involved with more than 100 doctoral dissertations. Auslander says she learns a great deal from each of her students.
Eleanor Rivera, a graduate student and preceptor in history, says Auslander respects her students and is a role model for how to teach and mentor. “And she’s always willing to keep pushing you on the questions you would rather not answer, “ Rivera adds. “Everyone has tricky parts of their dissertation that they don’t really know how to address, but Leora was always there to talk through those drafts in such a way that when I’d leave her office I’d think: ‘Oh, yes!’ I can figure out that question, and it’s important to do so.”
For Auslander, the process of mentoring involves helping students see their future. “I try to help them envisage themselves 10 years from now, to have some sense of what kind of historian, teacher, and member of an intellectual and academic community they want to be and how to get there. We also often talk about how having a personal life works with all of that.”
Auslander’s teaching and mentoring fit well with her own research agenda, which focuses on the intersection of everyday life, culture, and politics. Her most recent book, Cultural Revolutions, addresses these questions during the Age of Revolution in Britain, North America, and France.
Susan Gal’s current research examines the way people use language in everyday life, tracking the connection between language and political economy. She is interested in how standard national languages in Europe constrain minority-language speakers, and how translation connects but also separates populations of speakers. “Although multilingualism is increasingly valued for some, it co-exists with the devaluation of immigrant linguistic practices,” Gal says.
Gal’s research is distinguished by a dual focus, on both gender and communicative processes as they shape social and political changes. She describes how post-communism in Eastern Europe politicized masculinity and femininity in new ways. Men and women experienced the end of state-socialism differently and that has deeply influenced the continuing changes of those societies.
She is delighted by this award from her students. “I have discovered that ‘teaching’ is not an adequate description of all we do. There is something more like ‘co-thinking,’ an extended conversation that continues as colleagueship,” Gal says.
“Participating in the development of students’ plans and their creative projects—that works both ways: Good for their ideas, I hope, and always provocative for mine. As I see it, I am a link in a lineage, connecting students to ways of making knowledge that have a valuable past but will continue and change into a significant future only through their commitment.”
Aden Kumler, an expert on European art of the Middle Ages, admits she is a demanding teacher of graduate students. But her expectations are high, she says, because her students are capable of meeting and exceeding them.
“I’ve experienced real intellectual excellence on the part of the graduate students,” says Kumler, whose own work focuses on illuminated manuscripts and medieval material culture. “I feel very privileged with the students I have my classroom.”
In her graduate seminars, Kumler generally avoids teaching about objects or texts she has already studied closely in her own work. Instead, she and her students discover and struggle with new materials together.
In the classroom, Kumler tries to help students connect with a sense of “highly risky curiosity” that provokes original ideas. “The best scholarship is both an act of discipline and an act of imagination,” she says. “If you’ve got both of those things, you can formulate any question and go for it.”
In his 15 years at UChicago, Patchen Markell has created unique syllabi to provoke students to think explicitly and critically.
“When I started teaching graduate courses, I thought I was mainly responsible for introducing students to the ‘best’ or at least the most influential secondary literature on a topic,” he said. “What I came to realize, though, is that students can find and read the important journals on their own, and assimilate themselves to the mainstream of the field, quite easily. So I started writing weird, genre-bending, and halfway-illegible syllabi in which the combinations of readings were meant to provoke students to think explicitly and critically about what they were doing as political theorists and why.”
Having served as dissertation adviser for 20 PhD candidates, and on numerous other thesis committees, Markell says the experience transformed his own research interest.
“UChicago’s relatively low barriers to interaction across the disciplines, and across subfields within the disciplines, has enabled me to work with a much more eclectic group of students than I ever expected,” he says. “It’s not as if I was an expert on Plato’s Gorgias, the Haitian Revolution, or Franz Rosenzweig when I got here! And I’m still not; but I’ve learned a lot, and had my horizons expanded, by working with people who were intensely interested in these subjects.”
David Mazziotti is a theoretician, but there’s nothing theoretical about the success of his former graduate students.
From Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., to Florida State University in Tallahassee, many of them have become faculty members and postdoctoral researchers at institutions across the country. Others are forging successful careers outside of academia.
“It’s always a great pleasure to hear from them and to see what experiences they are having and to see that the education at Chicago really made a difference in their lives, and it’s helped them pursue their dreams, whether that be in science or in a whole range of other subjects,” says Mazziotti, who this year received both the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring and the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
“I’ve been lucky to have many examples set for me by my own mentors along the way,” Mazziotti says, referring to Dudley Herschbach at Harvard and Herschel Rabitz at Princeton. “They really set a great example for me, and I try my best to do half as well as they did in teaching me and serving as examples, both in science and in life.”
Originally published on June 9, 2014.