By News Office Staff | Photos by Robert Kozloff | Videos by UChicago Creative
The Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards are believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching. Presented annually, the awards reflect the College’s commitment to honoring inspiring teachers. UChicago faculty often count the Quantrell among their most treasured honors.
“Ernest Quantrell, who first established the Quantrell Awards in 1937, wanted to honor faculty members who were great scholar-teachers and who inspired our students to become more enlightened thinkers and more effective citizens of their communities and of our nation," says John W. Boyer, dean of the College. "As teachers and as scholars and as citizens of the University at large, this year's Quantrell winners exemplify the very best about the College and the University.”
Matthew Briones says he was a little nervous at first to receive a letter from President Robert J. Zimmer and Dean John W. Boyer, but when Briones learned he would be receiving a Quantrell Award, the cultural historian says he was touched to be nominated by students for the teaching recognition.
Briones teaches a core course on 20th-century American history and a variety of classes on comparative race relations and history. One of his favorite courses to teach is the history of baseball and American culture. “Students sign up for the seminar because it sounds fun, but it’s a really serious, heavy reading course about American culture,” says Briones. “Everybody comes because it’s about baseball, but it’s also about the history of race and sexuality and class in America from the Victorian age through desegregation of the major leagues.”
He appreciates how hard the students work at UChicago and how they seem to embrace their smartness. “One of my goals in the classroom is to make the students intellectually uncomfortable,” says Briones. “They should be wrestling with something that they’re reading or we’re discussing in class.”
“I was actually a graduate student here at UChicago, and I’ve had some of the previous recipients as professors. They’re truly outstanding,” says Holz, PhD’98, an associate professor in physics. “It’s really an honor to be on the same list.”
Holz specializes in general relativity in the context of astrophysics and cosmology. He took a quantum mechanics class from Robert Geroch, professor emeritus in physics, a 1980 Quantrell Award recipient. Holz also took a cosmology course from Michael Turner, the Bruce and Diana Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, who received a Quantrell Award in 1983.
During winter quarter 2013, Holz and Geroch team-taught Everyday Physics, a core class for non-majors in the physical sciences sequence. “I specifically requested to teach with him because he is an amazing teacher and he’s an amazing physicist,” Holz says. “I probably learned more physics than the students did.”
When Ilaria Rebay first started teaching as an assistant professor at MIT, team-teaching developmental biology, she was struck by how well her colleague drew students into the class by constantly asking questions.
Rebay has never forgotten the importance of engaging by questioning, and for the past decade has infused her philosophy of teaching into the Advanced Biology sequence, a full year course offered to first-year students with exceptional strengths in science and math, for which she serves as course director.
However, while she asks plenty of questions when she teaches the module on genetics—often taking examples from her own research on the fruit fly—Rebay most appreciates it when she gets a good one from her students.
“University of Chicago students are incredibly eager to learn and genuinely want to think about questions in biology,” Rebay says. “Often in class they will impress me by showing, by the questions that they ask, that they’ve really absorbed what I’m telling them and are thinking a few steps ahead. Then you really know you’ve made a connection.”
Sara Ray Stoelinga loves teaching: “The College is the heart of the University, and so it makes sense that teaching is at the heart of what I do.”
As the newly appointed Sara Liston Spurlark Director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, Stoelinga oversees the development of teachers, rigorous applied research, operation of schools, and the distribution of models to improve schools nationally. “UEI’s mission is about changing the odds for young people growing up in poverty. Education is a lever to reduce social inequality,” says Stoelinga, AB'95, AM'01, PhD'04.
The Institute has nearly 500 employees and a $50 million operating budget, keeping Stoelinga busy—yet she always makes time to teach. Stoelinga enjoys teaching in the College because of the intellectual curiosity, intensity, and excitement of undergraduates. “It is truly an honor to teach them, especially as a College alumna.”
Stoelinga encourages her students to explore and question assumptions about urban communities and schools. “Most of us gather impressions about urban public education from the headlines. I want students to consider different viewpoints, and understand the complexity of urban school reform.”
Her students appreciate her efforts. Third-year sociology major Kiara Nerenberg has taken four classes with Stoelinga. “She does a really phenomenal job of integrating the very deep UChicago theory with the real-world policy implications,” says Nerenberg. Fourth-year Michael Rosenbaum is one of the students who nominated Stoelinga for the Quantrell Award. “I don’t understand how she does it,” says Rosenbaum. “It’s like she’s working six or seven jobs all at once, and she still makes time to meet with all of us students. She’s incredible.”
Martha Ward believes in taking art history outside the classroom.
When she first started teaching, Ward made it “a matter of principle” to design courses based on art in local museum collections. She wanted to encourage her students to “look in their own backyard and see what’s there.”
For students at UChicago, their backyard includes the Art Institute, where Ward has taught courses on French art, modernism, and 19th-century art, and the Smart Museum of Art, whose collection of 20th-century art shaped Ward’s “1900 in the Smart Museum” undergraduate course.
She hopes students walk away from her classes with an appreciation for the complexity of art—and a lifelong enjoyment of it. “Objects can provide us access to history and creativity like nothing else,” she says.
Ward, who has been teaching at UChicago since 1987, says her students never fail to surprise her. “Students have done things in response to assignments that I didn’t know they were going to do,” she says. “They have realized something about themselves and about their potential that they wouldn’t have realized without that assignment.”
“What could be more rewarding than that?”
Originally published on June 1, 2015.