Hamilton College’s highest awards for teaching were presented to four faculty members during the annual Class & Charter Day ceremony on May 8. Professor of Physics Gordon Jones was awarded the Samuel & Helen Lang Prize for Excellence in Teaching; Assistant Professor of Chemistry Farah Dawood was honored with the John R. Hatch Excellence in Teaching Award; Assistant Professor of Geosciences Catherine Beck received the Class of 1963 Excellence in Teaching Award; and Associate Professor of Literature & Creative Writing Benjamin Widiss was honored with the Class of 1962 Outstanding Teacher Award.
The Samuel & Helen Lang Prize for Excellence in Teaching
Gordon Jones, the Litchfield Professor of Astronomy, is the 17th recipient of the Lang Prize, given annually to a senior, tenured faculty member. It is presented on the basis of superior teaching and for having a significant and positive impact on students.
Jones’ research interests include using neutrons to study fundamental symmetries and polarizing neutrons for use in materials science. On the fundamental side, Jones studies time reversal symmetry and weak interactions in nuclei. On the applied side, he builds devices used to understand magnetic materials such as the read heads in computer hard drives. He has published papers in journals such as the Physical Review C, Journal of Applied Crystallography and Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. He earned his doctorate in nuclear physics from Princeton University.
One student nominator wrote, “Gordon is more committed to his students learning experience than any teacher or professor I have previously had. He sacrifices all the time he can, while constantly working on other committees and further enriching the scientific minds on campus, to helping each and every student understand the course material.”
The John R. Hatch Class of 1925 Excellence in Teaching Award
Farah Dawood is developing the experimental physical chemistry curriculum. She is initiating a research program grounded in nanolithography for designing optically active materials for manipulating light and sensors for detecting low concentrations of biomolecules.
During her postdoctoral research at The Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Dawood developed new lithographic methods for spatially organizing soft materials, particularly for enabling applications in next-generation quantum computing. Before that, Dawood was a postdoctoral researcher in physical chemistry at the University of Maryland. She earned her doctorate in materials chemistry at Penn State, focusing on colloidal routes for the predictable and controllable synthesis of metastable nanoparticles using crystal structures as templates.
A student who nominated Dawood wrote: “Farah Dawood has been at Hamilton for only a few years but she has done so much for the chemistry department … she has allowed students to join in her nano-related research, opening a whole new side to chemistry that was unavailable to students before.”
Another wrote, “My experience at Hamilton would be so different and less fulfilling if I had not found a place working with Professor Dawood. She has inspired me to take my education further; and really make the most of my time here.”
The Excellence in Teaching Award supports an annual prize for a tenure-track faculty member who has been employed by the college for fewer than five years, and who has demonstrated superior teaching, high-quality scholarly research and significant and positive impact on students.
The Class of 1963 Excellence in Teaching Award
Catherine Beck’s research focuses on how sediments from the East African Rift Valley preserve changes in paleoclimate and paleoenvironment over the past four million years. This work is strongly based in field research, and she is particularly interested in coupling the study of lake sediments with paleoecology and stable isotope analyses in an effort to better constrain the conditions in which early hominins evolved. Beck received her master's and doctorate in geosciences from Rutgers University.
A student nominator wrote: “Professor Beck is good at knowing when to offer tutelage and additional information and when to let her students wrestle with problems for themselves. I think that I have become a more independent and adept problem solver, a more meticulous scientist, and a more confident scholar under her guidance.”
The Class of 1963 Excellence in Teaching Award was established in 1988 by members of the class at their 25th reunion to recognize one Hamilton faculty member each year who demonstrates extraordinary commitment to and skill in teaching.
The Class of 1962 Outstanding Teaching Award
Benjamin Widiss specializes in 20th-century and contemporary American literature and film. He wrote Obscure Invitations: The Persistence of the Author in Twentieth-Century American Literature. Widiss is working on a second book that explores a constellation of relationships between mass production and individual bodily presence, conceptions of temporality and loss, and constructions of adolescence and maturity as a means to articulate the aesthetic postures of an emergent post-postmodernism. He received a doctorate in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor’s degree from Yale University.
A student who nominated Widiss wrote “(He) is an incredibly devoted, immensely articulate, and exceptionally supportive professor. His zest and enthusiasm for the material he teaches is evident in every class session.”
Another student noted that “(He) is my thesis advisor and writing this paper with him has been one of the most rewarding academic experiences of my life. Every week I send him a draft; and every week he sends it back to me with extensive comments that stretch my thinking … He has put so much time and energy into me as a student; and taken great care to know me as a person.”
The Class of 1962 Outstanding Teaching Award, established in 1987 by the class at their 25th Reunion, is awarded every five years to an outstanding tenured member of the faculty in recognition of distinguished teaching.