Hamilton College’s highest awards for teaching were presented to four faculty members during the annual Class & Charter Day ceremony on May 11. Professor of Classics Shelley Haley was awarded the Samuel & Helen Lang Prize for Excellence in Teaching; Assistant Professor of Mathematics Courtney Gibbons was honored with the John R. Hatch Excellence in Teaching Award; and Max Majireck, assistant professor of chemistry, received the Class of 1963 Excellence in Teaching Award. In addition, Education Studies Program Director Susan Mason received Student Assembly’s Sidney Wertimer Award.
Shelley Haley, The Samuel & Helen Lang Prize for Excellence in Teaching
Haley is the 15th recipient of the Samuel & Helen Lang Prize for Excellence in Teaching, which is 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. The fund was established by Helen Lang, the mother of Michael C. Lang, class of 1967.
In the past year Haley was a Melvyn Hill Visiting Scholar-in-Residence at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In November she served as a guest facilitator for a Mellon workshop on “Sex and Gender in Past Societies: New Theories and Approaches” at Brown University.
A member of the Hamilton faculty since 1989, Haley earned a Ph.D. in classical studies from the University of Michigan. She served a four-year term as chief reader for the AP Latin Exam and has chaired the AP Latin Exam Development Committee.
Haley, an expert on Cleopatra, has appeared on the BBC’s TimeWatch segment on Cleopatra, and was interviewed for The Learning Channel’s series “Rome: Power & Glory.” She was a contributor to the African American Women Writers Series, 1910-1940 (1995) and has published articles in classical journals such as Historia, Classical World and Classica et Mediaevalia.
A Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Washington University-St. Louis in 2002, Haley also participated in the Oxford Round Table in 2003. She spent a month in South Africa in 1999, where she lectured on the classics as a foreign research fellow.
Haley has lectured nationally and internationally on the topic of increasing the representation of students of color in Latin, ancient Greek and classics classrooms. She has also lectured around the world on her research concerning the role of a classical education in the lives and careers of 19th century college-educated black women.
One student who nominated Haley for the Lang prize referred to her as “a first class professor with an enormous heart.” The student said, “Students respect Professor Haley because they know she is devoted to making them better individuals in life. (She) wants to see us succeed and she is always predisposed to help us achieve these aims. The knowledge and perspectives I have gained in taking her courses has forever changed me.”
“As a Posse mentor she has facilitated discussions between Posse members, and has given everyone a safe space to develop our roles and identities… She has been the major foundation of our Posse and does not only see us as her children but also as her friends.”
A young alumna nominator wrote: “Professor Shelley Haley changed my life and I didn’t even know it at the time.” As a planned classical languages major she made her initial course selection with Haley as a new student in 2008. “I remember presenting her with my planned schedule: four language classes. In her warm, grounded and sage manner, Professor Haley explained to me that the point of Hamilton’s open curriculum wasn’t to limit, but to emancipate.
“At Hamilton, I majored in sociology. But I double-majored in Shelley Haley, and it’s been this dual-degree that has greatly impacted my life for the better.”
Courtney Gibbons, The John R. Hatch Class of 1925 Excellence in Teaching Award
The John R. Hatch Class of 1925 Excellence in Teaching Award was established in 1998 by Alfrederic S. Hatch, a 1958 Hamilton graduate, in memory of his father, who graduated from Hamilton in 1925. It 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.
During the past year Gibbons served on the Mentoring Matters panel at the 2014 MathFest in Portland, Ore., sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America.
She also completed her first year as a Project NExT (New Experiences in Teaching) Fellow. As a Project NExT Fellow, Gibbons became part of a network of academics dedicated to becoming excellent mathematics educators and including students in mathematical research. Each year, 80 fellows are selected from a large applicant pool.
In March an interview with Gibbons appeared in Girls’ Angle Bulletin. She discussed how she became interested in math and some of her goals as a mathematician, one of which is to include students in her research. She was also an invited lecturer this spring at Syracuse University and Adelphi University.
Gibbons received her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2009, 2013), where she studied homological properties of modules over quadratic algebras. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in mathematics from Colorado College (2006).
Gibbons’ work appears in the Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra, and, soon, in the Journal of Commutative Algebra. She also codes for Macaulay 2, an open-source algebra software package.
A student nominator wrote, “Professor Gibbons is the best professor I have had at Hamilton, and the best teacher I have ever had in my life. I came into college not being that interested in math, but I decided to take some math classes to diversify my schedule. After my first class with Prof. Gibbons I was so happy with my decision. I have never had a teacher care so much about my academic success... As a humanities’ major, the math department has always been a little intimidating, but Gibbons has shown me that I have the ability to succeed in things if I set my mind to them.”
Another wrote, “This semester I've been fortunate enough to have her as my Cryptography professor, and I understand fully why her students love her so much. She tells fun stories in class about mathematics research, famous mathematicians, and the history of cryptography. More than simply teaching us about the course material, she has fun with the class, and clearly is passionate about the subject itself.”
Max Majireck, Class of 1963 Excellence in Teaching Award
The Class of 1963 Excellence in Teaching Award was established in 1988 by members of the class on the occasion of their 25th reunion to recognize one Hamilton faculty member each year who demonstrates extraordinary commitment to and skill in teaching.
Max Majireck completed his postdoctoral research in chemical biology at Harvard University and the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard designing small molecules to study disease biology, particularly cancer.
During this research, Majireck spent the majority of his efforts developing molecular tools to target PRC2, an essential chromatin modifying protein complex that is frequently misregulated or mutated in various cancers, and was selected for a fellowship from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
At Penn State, Majireck earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry while focusing on the total synthesis of complex natural products and development of new methodologies for organic synthesis.
This year he was a co-author on a collaborative paper published in the Feb. 10 issue of Cell Reports. “Niche-Based Screening in Multiple Myeloma Identifies a Kinesin-5 Inhibitor with Improved Selectivity over Hematopoietic Progenitors” resulted from a project that involved 33 researchers and 16 different institutional affiliations including Harvard, Columbia and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Majireck was part of the research team during his postdoctoral research at Harvard and the Broad Institute.
He also worked with Ben Wesley ’16 on a proposal that resulted in a Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research award to Wesley. It was based on a project that evolved from summer research with Majireck to build a special type of reaction apparatus for the synthesis izidine alkaloids, a class of molecules which can possess interesting neuroactivity.
A student who nominated Majireck wrote, “His door was always open and he would field questions from students till he left, even if that was 1 a.m. Seeing him work as hard as us, and hearing his understanding about the challenges in organic chemistry made the class a far better experience, and I think it hints at an underlying fact: Max loves to teach students.
“While Max’s effort put in for students is impressive in itself, I think it pales in comparison to the effort he puts into teaching students how to conduct research. In my experience under him as a researcher, I’ve found that Max thinks of how to help his students conduct research before he thinks about pushing forward his own research.”
Another student wrote, “He clearly demonstrates an investment in his students by making himself as available as possible… Whenever in his office - always with the door wide open - he would drop whatever he was doing to help us until we fully understood the material. Also, his youthfulness makes him relatable to students and very much understands the stress that Organic Chemistry creates.
“Professor Majireck made one of the most difficult classes at this school (almost) enjoyable and his commitment to my success was the sole reason I was wholly invested in learning the material he taught. If I had to take another Orgo class, I wouldn't want to take it with anyone else.”
Susan Mason, Sidney Wertimer Award
Susan Mason, director of the Education Studies Program, received the Sidney Wertimer Award from Student Assembly.
Mason, who came to Hamilton in 1991, is responsible for planning, implementing, and assessing all activities associated with Hamilton's minor in education studies.
As a consultant she also designs and delivers communication management skills seminars for a variety of profit and nonprofit organizations.
Hamilton’s Student Assembly initiated the Wertimer Award in 2005 in memory of the late Sidney Wertimer, professor of economics emeritus, who died in February, 2005. The award recognizes a faculty member “who is recognized as a mentor and active participant within the Hamilton community.”