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Faculty members receive President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching

Emily Aronson, Office of Communications | Tue May 28, 2024

Four Princeton University faculty members received President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching at Commencement ceremonies Tuesday, May 28.

They are Gary Bass, the William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics of Peace and War and a professor of politics and the School of Public and International Affairs; Laura Kalin, associate professor of linguistics in the Council of the Humanities; Seth A. Perry, associate professor of religion; and Clancy W. Rowley, the Sin-I Cheng Professor in Engineering Science and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The awards were established in 1990 through a gift by Princeton alumni Lloyd Cotsen of the Class of 1950 and John Sherrerd of the Class of 1952 to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching by Princeton faculty members. Each winner receives a cash prize of $5,000, and their departments each receive $3,000 for the purchase of new books. 

A committee of faculty, academic administrators, undergraduates and graduate students selected the winners from nominations by students, faculty colleagues and alumni.

Gary Bass

Gary Bass is the William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics of Peace and War and a professor of politics and international affairs. He has taught at Princeton since 1999, specializing in international security, international law and human rights. 

Bass has many virtues as a teacher, said his colleagues and students. A politics department colleague commended his “moral seriousness but also his sense of humor, his respect for differences of opinion about the sensitive and emotive issues he has his students discuss, and the sense of challenge and inspiration that his students are left with.”

Bass teaches two popular undergraduate classes on human rights and causes of war, which students have rated amongst the best courses they’ve taken at Princeton. 

His command of the classroom is also lauded by graduate students. A colleague in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) describes Bass as “one of the most successful teachers” in the master’s in public affairs program (MPA). 

As a senior thesis adviser, Bass is known for setting the bar high for his students, while displaying his trademark humor and kindness. “The fact that someone so accomplished and brilliant genuinely cared that much about my thesis motivated, inspired and empowered me, and gave me a sense of confidence in my own intellect and abilities that I had never previously felt,” a former student said.

Many alumni who have pursued careers related to the law and human rights said they were inspired by Bass. “When I think about the kind of professor I strive to be for my own students, I know that I have modeled myself on Gary,” said an alumnus now on the faculty of Harvard Law School.  

Laura Kalin

Laura Kalin is an associate professor of linguistics in the Council of the Humanities. She has taught at Princeton since 2016. Her research focuses on “the syntax and morphology of understudied and often endangered languages.”

Described by one student as “the most dedicated professor I’ve had at Princeton,” Kalin is known for her passion for her field, her inspiring energy, and her commitment to her students and advisees. 

“What truly sets Professor Kalin apart from the rest is her unparalleled enthusiasm. No matter whether explaining the topic of the day, or exploring an impromptu tangent uncovered by a student’s question, she approached every problem with a vibrant energy that was nothing short of infectious,” one alumnus said. 

A creative instructor, she redesigned the lecture course “Linguistic Universals and Language Diversity” so that each student studied a single endangered language of their choice. Students said the project showed the real-world applications of linguistics research and gave their work greater purpose. “I took this class mainly for its linguistics designation and then discovered how truly awesome it was,” one student said. 

Kalin is also appreciated for her ability to distill the most complex subjects in an engaging and understandable way.

Said an alumnus: “I vividly remember Professor Kalin’s morphology course. Though it covered a notoriously prickly and theoretical subject, Professor Kalin’s class breathed fresh air into what could have been a technical, stuffy course. In my four years at Princeton, I never had a teacher come close to Professor Kalin.” 

Seth A. Perry

Seth Perry is an associate professor of religion. He has taught at Princeton since 2014. His scholarship focuses on American religious history and religious authority.

Perry has served as director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Religion for five years, during which time he revised the department’s junior colloquium, chaired the committee that revised and updated requirements for the major, and proposed the course of study to create a minor in religion. 

“Seth’s contributions to undergraduate and graduate education in the Department of Religion have been nothing short of outstanding, as has his mentorship of students within the department,” said a colleague. 

As a faculty fellow for the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP) and an academic adviser in Butler College, he has extended his support to students beyond his department, especially first-generation and lower-income students. 

Undergraduates credit Perry’s thorough and thoughtful feedback with helping them become more critical readers and better writers, skills they used to succeed in other classes and in their careers after Princeton. Perry is also known among graduate students as an “enthusiastic mentor” committed to their intellectual and professional development.

Said one former student, “His passion for intellectual inquiry, unparalleled gift for teaching, and genuine care for students epitomize all of Princeton’s highest ideals.”

A recent alumnus said Perry not only ignited her interest in religious studies but influenced her work as a teacher today: “I draw heavy inspiration from the example set by Professor Perry,” the student said. “His warm demeanor, clear passion for the field, and skillful, instructive use of relatable terms and cultural references made his classes a joy to attend; the love of religious studies that I try to pass on to my students, he modeled.”

Clancy W. Rowley

Clancy Rowley is the Sin-I Cheng Professor in Engineering Science and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. He has taught at Princeton since 2001. His research interests lie at “the intersection of dynamical systems, control theory and fluid mechanics.”

Rowley has taught his department’s core undergraduate course in control theory almost every semester since 2001. Students cite both the course and its textbook, which he wrote, as highlights of their Princeton academic experience.

“Professor Rowley's class in controls is one of the best classes that I have had during my time at Princeton,” one student said. “He made use of many great examples and applications of control theory to keep the class from being too heavy in theory and also to show us why control theory is important to understand.”

Colleagues and students describe Rowley as a gifted lecturer who makes complicated topics not only accessible but also inspiring to students from across departments. 

“Professor Rowley’s lectures consistently achieved an unparalleled balance of clarity and mathematical rigor, making even the most technical and abstract concepts accessible for his students,” a graduate student said. “His course notes rival traditional textbooks in quality and are a testament to his commitment to accessible and high-quality education.”

Students also called Rowley a compassionate and kind teacher—a professor who is concerned about students’ well-being both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Faculty in mechanical and aerospace engineering said their own teaching has improved because of Rowley. Said one colleague: “His ability to teach his colleagues how to be better teachers is in my view yet another dimension to this exceptional educator.”