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Princeton graduate students honored for excellence in teaching

Wed May 15, 2024

The Graduate School has presented 10 graduate students with its annual Teaching Awards in recognition of their outstanding abilities as instructors.

Winners were selected by a committee chaired by Lisa Schreyer, deputy dean of the Graduate School, and composed of the academic affairs deans of the Graduate School and staff from the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. The nominations were made by academic departments and programs. Each winner receives $1,000.

The awardees are Jamie Chiu from the Department of Psychology, Jasante’ Howard from the Department of Politics, Marie-Louise James from the Department of German, Casey Lewry from the Department of Psychology, Laura Nelson from the Department of History, Filippo Palomba from the Department of Economics, Ravin Raj from the Department of Physics, Katherine Sniezek from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Katie VanderKam from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

In addition, Pasquale Toscano from the Department of English was recognized with the Collaborative Teaching Initiative (CTI) Graduate Teaching Award

Jamie Chiu

Jamie Chiu, a second-year Ph.D. student in psychology, was recognized for her work as a preceptor in “From Animal Learning to Changing People’s Minds,” taught by Yael Niv, professor of psychology and neuroscience. 

Niv praised Chiu as “a thoughtful, dedicated teacher” who approached the position with “immense compassion and a rare ability to meet students where they are.” Chiu excelled at employing creative ways to make her office hours accessible and to reduce any stigma of asking for help, according to Niv.

Students found that Chiu “patiently answered questions and dedicated ample time to each of us during precepts and office hours,” one said. “Her guidance and support were instrumental in enhancing our understanding of course material and fostering a conducive learning environment.”

Jasante’ Howard

Jasante’ Howard, a third-year Ph.D. student in politics, was recognized for his work as a preceptor in “American Politics,” taught by Professor of Politics Paul Frymer. 

Howard showed great skill at drawing students into lively discussions, said Frymer: “He respectfully engaged their views and gently raised different perspectives to challenge and force all the students to think more deeply.”

Students were grateful to Howard for the way he explored all the relevant angles of an issue. “Jasante’ created a very welcoming precept environment and was very approachable,” said one student. “He also opened up about his own personal experiences and how they connected to the course, and I deeply appreciated his vulnerability.”

Marie-Louise James

A third-year Ph.D. student in German, Marie-Louise James served as an assistant in instruction (AI) for “Beginner’s German I,” taught by Jamie Rankin, a lecturer in the German department.

“Her enthusiasm is infectious,” said Rankin, who praised her “engaging classroom presence, her meticulous preparation for every class meeting, and her deep connection with students…. She asks questions, listens thoughtfully, remembers her students’ interests and challenges in minute detail, and creates a classroom environment that makes them all feel welcome and seen.”

Students said James “made the class dynamic, fun and interesting while at the same time pushing our knowledge of German.” Another added, “She created a space and mindset that truly cultivated a desire to learn the language.”

Casey Lewry

Casey Lewry, a third-year Ph.D. student in psychology, was recognized for her work as head preceptor for “Developmental Psychology,” taught by Professor of Psychology Casey Lew-Williams.

“Not only is she 100% reliable and organized and endlessly creative, but she makes me a better teacher and keeps me on my toes,” Lew-Williams said. “She enacted deeply original practices in the classroom, and I got to see many of them take shape in my course.”

Students were grateful to Lewry for her inventive approaches to the course material and the detailed feedback she offered to students about their work. “Casey has made the precepts both thought-provoking and engaging,” said one student, who also appreciated that she “always stays after class for any leftover doubts or concerns.”

Laura Nelson

Third-year Ph.D. student in history Laura Nelson was lauded for her work as a preceptor in the course “American Cultural History,” taught by lecturer Noelle Bodick *23.

Nelson “is a natural-born teacher: patient, inquisitive, and generous intellectually at every opportunity,” said Bodick, who appreciated how Nelson jumped in to give a tutorial on digital humanities and took on other tasks. “I thanked my lucky stars for Laura.”

Students remarked that Nelson gently drew out shy students in class discussions. When it came time for final projects, she provided detailed, thoughtful feedback that assisted students’ understanding of the material. “She conducted her precepts in a way that made historical analysis and writing seem less daunting to me, a molecular biology major,” said one student.

Filippo Palomba

Filippo Palomba, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in economics, served as an AI for “Econometrics,” taught by Bo Honore, Class of 1913 Professor of Political Economy.

Students initially struggled in this difficult course, but by the end of the semester, their accomplishments exceeded those in previous years, Honore said. “I primarily credit this to Filippo.” He praised Palomba as one of the most outstanding preceptors he had encountered in 30 years as a professor at Princeton.

“His precepts and material were extremely helpful and his simplification of very difficult concepts was unmatched,” said one student. “Filippo is always welcoming to students in his precepts, office hours, and even hosts late-night study sessions for students who are overwhelmed with the course material.”

Ravin Raj

Ravin Raj, who is a third-year Ph.D. student in physics, was praised for his work as a preceptor in the course “Advanced Electromagnetism.”

Raj ran extra study sessions for students and prepared extensive supplementary notes for them. “Not only did Ravin spend a lot of time helping students who struggled with the material, as normally expected from an AI, but also through his various contributions, he developed a completely new add-on component to the course for the more advanced students,” said Waseem Bakr, a professor of physics. 

Students were grateful for the extra assistance: I really appreciated the support this class had (special shout out to Ravin for his Sunday sessions and exam reviews and for being super nice in general).”

Katherine Sniezek

Fourth-year Ph.D. student Katherine Sniezek, who is in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, served as an AI for the courses “Chemical Engineering Laboratory” and “Mass, Momentum, Energy Transport.”

Katherine’s desire for students to learn not just the answer, but the fundamental understanding behind the answer, was on full display from Day 1,” said Michele Sarazen, an assistant professor in chemical and biological engineering.

One student, who has had Sniezek as a preceptor and thesis adviser, observed that she “is always willing to allocate as much time as necessary for me to truly understand the material, and her thorough understanding of chemistry and biology allows her to adapt to a variety of teaching styles that best facilitate my learning experiences or whomever she is helping.”

Pasquale Toscano

Pasquale Toscano is expected to graduate next year with a Ph.D. in English. He served as a preceptor for “Bodies and Belonging in Miltons Epic Tradition.”

Nigel Smith, the William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature and Professor of English, said, As a teacher, Pasquale is deeply gifted with a distinctive way of direct engagement: he talks to each student in turn and helps them engage individually and collectively with the question at hand.”

He went out of his way with office hours, emails, any form of help to ensure that we were understanding the material and that we could find meaning within it,” said one student. 

Katie VanderKam

Fourth-year Ph.D. student Katie VanderKam served as a preceptor for the courses “Energy Conversion and the Environment: Transportation Applications” and “Thermodynamics.”

“Approaching teaching as an opportunity to unleash the inner potential of all of the students, she would push the students to go one step further, unlocking self-discovery rather than simply telling the students the answers,” said Michael E. Mueller, the associate chair and professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Students remarked that VanderKam made an extra effort to provide guidance when students were wrestling with complex material. “Katie was able to always give direct and concise yet still understandable answers to our questions,” one student said. “I also think Katie did a great job of relating the material to real world examples.”