By News Office staff
Photo by Robert Kozloff

The Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prizes for Excellence in Teaching, established in 1991, recognize excellent teaching of undergraduates by graduate students. College students and faculty members nominate the recipients. This year’s winners:

Nicole James began her graduate studies in chemistry this year, also serving as a teaching assistant in Honors General Chemistry. Last summer she worked in the laboratory of Dmitri Talapin, professor in chemistry. More recently she joined the research group of Heinrich Jaeger, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Professor in Physics. James is co-author of four publications, including Effect of suspended uncontaminated sediment on persistent organic pollutant release,” which appeared in the February 2014 issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. She received her BA in chemistry and German studies from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. She then worked as a life sciences lab technician at Walla Walla Community College before enrolling at UChicago.

Elizabeth Emelene Jefferis is a PhD candidate in sociology and graduated cum laude from New York University as a sociology minor and a drama major. A preceptor for the BA sociology thesis for two years, Jefferis is teaching a class called “The Cultural Sociology of Animals.” Using her dramatic arts background, she engages students in the collective act of learning within a semi-structured, improvisational classroom. Her pedagogical goal is to “engage each student’s intellectual passions and imaginations, encouraging unique interests that require courage to pursue.” Jefferis worked as a human resources consultant and manager before she found her true calling in teaching and sociological research. Her research focuses on urban communities, politics and policy; formal organizations; culture, qualitative methods, stratification, race, ethnicity, class and human-animal interaction. Jefferis obtained her master’s degree in sociology from UChicago and attended Stanford University as an exchange scholar for a year.

Laura Merwin, a graduate student in the lab of Joy Bergelson, chair of Ecology and Evolution, studies how plants adapt to different environments. In probing the biology of Arabidopsis thaliana, a popular model organism, Merwin’s goal is to reveal how these plants cope with the inhospitable conditions of beaches. Understanding these adaptations will shed light on genes that might be important for plants to deal with drought, as well as better inform research on agriculture in difficult environments. Although nervous at first, Merwin has quickly come to enjoy teaching. She hopes not only to share her inherent curiosity and fascination with the natural world, but also to help students better understand scientific information to make informed decisions on subjects such as climate change and vaccines. Merwin has won numerous awards for teaching and research, including a Fullbright Postgraduate Scholarship to Australia. She also works with SPARK Chicago, a program that pairs middle school students with mentors based on careers in which the students are interested.

Daniel Pratt successfully defended his dissertation and found out that he won the Booth teaching award on the same weekend. He will earn his PhD in Slavic languages and literature this spring, after earning an MA in the same field in 2007 from the University of Chicago. He did undergraduate work at Princeton University, earning a BA in Comparative Literature in 2003, and took off to the Czech Republic soon thereafter, where he taught English to high school students. He learned about his own teaching philosophy and how people learn languages in those two years in a remote high school; lessons that he has applied to his teaching at UChicago. Pratt has carried a full teaching load while working on his graduate studies—teaching Russian, Czech, and Polish language courses, as well as Human Being & Citizen, Central and Eastern European Romanticism, Eastern European Literary Theory, and Russian Through Pushkin. The child of two professors, he says it’s possible to be a great researcher and a great educator. “Knowing your subject inside and out means you can teach it from a variety of views,” he said. His research focuses on the culture and aesthetics of Central Europe, with a paper coming next year in Comparative Literature Studies about the intersections between Witold Gombrowiczs Ferdydurke and Sinclair Lewis Babbitt.

Originally published on June 9, 2014.