Even though college professors can sometimes be depicted as unapproachable and unconcerned with undergraduate students, Cornell aims to correct this misconception by distinguishing professors with such awards as the Weiss Presidential Fellowship, an award that honors the dedication, accessibility and effective teaching methods of undergraduate professors.
This year the fellowship, which was established in 1992, was presented to Ronald Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics; Anthony Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Prof. Paul Sherman, neurobiology and behavior.
The Weiss Presidential Fellowship, which has been presented to 40 professors since its establishment, is named for Stephen H. Weiss ’57, emeritus chair of the Cornell’s Board of Trustees. The winners of the distinguished honor are nominated by students and chosen by the president and a committee comprised of three previous fellowship winners, three emeritus professors and three undergraduate students.
In addition to holding the title of Weiss Fellow, each professor also receives $5,000 a year for five years to be used to enhance undergraduate education. The fellowship also contains a new component where each recipient is asked to write an essay on teaching to be published and shared with faculty members and students. This new aspect was first introduced last year when the 11-page booklet, “Words of Wisdom: 2004 Weiss Fellows,” was produced.
When asked how they felt about receiving the fellowship, each of the honored professors shared the same general feeling of appreciation and happiness regarding the award.
“I’m very pleased to be a part of the fellowship, and I’m enjoying the manifestations of it,” Ingraffea said.
Additionally, the three professors shared the same satisfaction of teaching undergraduate students, especially at Cornell University.
“Working with undergraduates is absolutely the greatest satisfaction in the world,” Ehrenberg said. He added that “teaching at Cornell is a real privilege because of the quality of students.”
“I enjoy being around freshmen. I enjoy hearing about their dreams. They have expectations of doing the unlimited … and I help them get the information they need to follow up on their dreams,” Ingraffea said. “Never underestimate a Cornell undergraduate. You get back more from them that you hoped for.”
“I love working with undergraduates” said Sherman, an honors advisor for over 30 students, when asked about his past interactions with Cornell undergraduates.
Each 2005 Weiss Fellow has been devoted to teaching at Cornell and has achieved past recognition in his field.
Ehrenberg has been teaching at Cornell since 1975. He also served as Cornell’s vice president for academic programs and founded the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute (CHERI). Ehrenberg was encouraged to become a teacher by his parents, who were both secondary-school health education teachers, as well as by one of his college professors.
Currently, Ehrenberg teaches the popular Labor Economics 648: economic analysis of the university course, and he will be teaching a labor economics course in the spring. He is also constantly working to involve more undergraduates in pursuing Ph.D.s in economics, a pursuit that he finds incredibly rewarding.
“Humor has always been an important part of my teaching style, because my students remain attentive to what I am saying because they don’t want to miss the next joke,” Ehrenberg stated in a speech that was presented at Mortarboard’s March 2004 annual “Last Lecture” series.
When asked why he still enjoys teaching, Ehrenberg pointed to a recent article he had written: “The secret to my success is that I am the proverbial quadruple threat, who cares about and does well in all aspects of an academic’s life – undergraduate teaching, graduate teaching, research, and service and administration. Throughout my career, each aspect has fed upon the others and this enables me to remain fresh and excited about what I am doing.”
Ingraffea has been a professor at Cornell since 1977, and he is also the director of the Cornell Fracture Group.
His favorite course to teach is a sophomore-level course offered this spring, because it is the first time that students are able to apply the past skills that they have acquired. He also teaches CCE 479: collaborative distance design, a senior-level course offered this spring that involves Syracuse University and three other professors.
“I’m still excited to teach before a lecture. I enjoy testing myself, my ability to explain something that I think I know to someone else. The thrill has not gone,” Ingraffea said.
He added that he enjoys teaching for both intellectual and emotional reasons. Ingraffea tries to adapt his method of teaching to different students and asks himself if he is successful in conveying a concept and if not, how he can explain it again differently. Emotionally, he enjoys seeing that students understand a concept because then they are able to impart further information to others.
Sherman has been at Cornell since 1981 and has published 180 papers and eight books, including three children’s books.
He currently teaches Neurobiology and Behavior 221: Introduction to Animal Behavior, as well as a senior seminar on Darwinian medicine.
“Teaching and research are a seamless process,” Sherman said. He explained that he teaches what he is passionate about, and that through teaching, he is able to understand questions that he is interested in studying and researching further.
“The excitement is in bringing people to a level of understanding so they can bring others to further understanding. The excitement is seeing information consumers become information producers, and I’d like to be a part of that,” Sherman said.
Despite their different academic and teaching backgrounds, all three professors agreed that Cornell emphasizes the importance of undergraduate teaching.
“It is wonderful to be a part of a university that values and honors high quality, undergraduate teaching,” Sherman said.
The 2005 Weiss Fellows were formally introduced on Nov. 10 at a luncheon held at the Johnson Museum of Art. The event was attended by former fellows, as well as Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Provost Biddy Martin. The fellows will be honored again at an awards dinner this March where Stephen Weiss, as well as the board of trustees, will be present.
Archived article by Jamie Leonard
Sun Staff Writer