February 4, 2009

Four Professors Awarded Weiss Fellowships

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The 2008 Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowships have been awarded to four Cornell professors — Bruce Ganem, the Franz and Elisabeth Roessler Professor of Chemistry; Prof. Ronald Harris-Warrick, neurobiology and behavior; Mary Beth Norton, the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History; and Prof. Richard Rand, mechanical and aerospace engineering.
According to the University Faculty website, the fellowships are meant to honor and recognize tenured faculty members “who [have] a sustained record of effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching of undergraduate students and of contributions to undergraduate education.”
“The award is based on undergraduate teaching, and relies heavily on letters from undergraduate students who took courses the nominee has taught,” Ganem stated in an e-mail.
“I know that numerous students wrote letters on my behalf, because they told me so,” Norton stated in an e-mail. “One even showed me her letter recently (after the award was announced). It was very flattering and humbling to see myself through her eyes.”
Being honored with the fellowship includes an award of $5,000 a year for five years to each of the four honorees.
Neither Norton nor Ganem were sure what to do with their awards.
“I have made no plans as of yet,” Norton stated.
“I will probably use it to develop curricular material for new courses, and maybe to support some of my research activities,” Ganem stated.
Both Ganem and Norton agreed on what qualities are most important for professors.
“I think it is important to take students seriously and to foster their intellectual development,” Norton stated. “My role is to be an encouraging guide and mentor.”
“Being a good speaker, a good listener, a good mentor, role model, advisor,” Ganem stated. “I guess, overall, I would say that being able to connect with your students, and for both the student and the faculty member to come away thinking that each had somehow benefited from the interaction.”
The namesake of the fellowship, Stephen H. Weiss ’57, is the late emeritus chair of Cornell’s Board of Trustees. To date, there have been 50 recipients of the Weiss Fellowship. The current board will hold a ceremony in honor of the four recipients in May.
Ganem expressed gratitude to Weiss.
“I’m a bit sad I never got to know Stephen Weiss, although I frequently saw him on campus during trustee meetings,” he stated. “He was obviously a very generous individual.”