Faculty members recognized with teaching awards

April 27, 2018

Professors Kristen Mascall (CHEM), Aparna Baskaran (PHYS) and Anita Hannig (ANTH) received teaching awards at the Faculty Meeting on Friday, April 20.

The Committee for the Support of Teaching, in conjunction with the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, chooses award recipients, according to a BrandeisNow article, though students can nominate professors for awards.

Mascall received the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching, honoring “an individual who is involved in the co-curricular and extracurricular life of the campus, and more importantly, has had a significant impact on students’ lives as an exceptional teacher, mentor, adviser and friend,” according to the award’s webpage.

Noa HaLevi ’20 took Organic Chemistry with Mascall as part of her biochemistry major. “Mascall is super hardworking and straightforward about what she expects from you. She is very organized and her notes are incredibly easy to follow, considering how difficult the topics are,” HaLevi told The Brandeis Hoot. According to HaLevi, Mascall holds six hours of office-hours each week, more than most professors, to ensure her students can come ask questions and clarify material as often as possible.

Prior to joining the Brandeis faculty in 2014, Mascall completed a B.S. at the University of West Indies, a PhD at Dartmouth College and a postdoctoral fellowship at Boston University. Mascall teaches Organic Chemistry I and II, their respective labs and Honors General Chemistry II. She is also a first-year advisor and part of the Brandeis Pre-Medical Board. In previous years, Mascall served on the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and subcommittee for Independent Interdisciplinary Majors (IIMs).

“It was a humbling experience and I recall feeling much gratitude towards the students who nominated me for it,” Mascall said in an interview with The Hoot. She said her students’ “motivation and enthusiasm for learning” make her job easier. She encouraged students to “keep working diligently, strive for excellence and continue to rise to each challenge that is thrown at you.”

Baskaran, recipient of the Lerman-Neubauer ‘69 Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring, is an Associate Professor of Physics. She teaches courses such as “Waves and Oscillations,” “Quantum Theory” and “Introduction to Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics.” She received her M.S. at the Raman School of Physics at Pondicherry University in Puducherry, India. She earned a PhD from the University of Florida before moving to Syracuse University for her postdoctoral fellowship. Baskaran’s research into the properties of soft materials and the physics of biological systems has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and published in a variety of scientific journals.

Chris Simonetti ‘19, majoring in physics and mathematics, took two classes with Baskaran. Even though most students decide to take Introduction to Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics as juniors, Simonetti elected to take it as a sophomore because he knew Baskaran was the professor.

Baskaran is seen as a mentor to all of her students, said Simonetti. He said in an interview, “After my freshman year of physics I felt very discouraged. I thought I wasn’t cut out for the physics major, that I wasn’t smart enough. However, after taking a class with her, not only did I realize that I was capable of understanding difficult concepts, but I was also reminded of my excitement for learning physics.”

In addressing her students, Baskaran said she hopes they enjoyed learning with her as much as she did teaching them. She continued, saying, “I did have fun, in spite of [the] existential angst that I suffer whenever you guys look at me funny and it is obvious I am not making my point clearly.” To any future students, Baskaran said she tooks forward to guiding them through their “exploration of some awesome physics.”

Hannig received the Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Teaching, which is awarded to a tenure-track professor “who combines superlative scholarship with inspired teaching,” according to the award’s webpage. Hannig came to Brandeis in 2012 as a Florence Levy Kay Fellow and then became an Assistant Professor of Anthropology. She teaches a variety of medical anthropology courses and Health: Science, Society and Policy (HSSP) courses.

“Brandeis is a special place to teach, as students are just so ready to jump into new ways of thinking feet-first,” said Hannig, “As a professor, it feels really gratifying to work with such enthusiasm in the classroom and to help students develop their critical thinking muscles. I am, of course, completely honored and thrilled that I won this year!”

Sarah Fielman ’19, a double major in HSSP and Anthropology, took “Medicine, Body and Culture” and “Medicine and Religion” with Hannig. Fielman said Hannig helps generate critical conversations so students can “gain better knowledge of health and life as well as the ability to understand different perspectives.”

“[Hannig] challenges students which is something I think every student should experience,” said Fielman.

Hannig was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Reed College and received her M.A. and PhD from the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on medical anthropology, the anthropology of religion, gender and the body, and the anthropology of death and dying, according to a BrandeisNOW article. In 2017, Hannig published “Beyond Surgery: Injury, Healing, and Religion at an Ethiopian Hospital,” an ethnographic account of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities in Ethiopia.

Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan J. Birren presented their awards during the April 20 Faculty Meeting.

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