9 recognized with award for superior teaching

Nine faculty received the 2018 George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching, which honors top Rice instructors as determined by the votes of alumni who graduated within the past two, three and five years. Below are the recipients and their comments about their favorite class to teach.

Lisa Balabanlilar, associate professor of history

Lisa Balabanlilar

Lisa Balabanlilar

“I love all of my classes. Rice gives its humanists a great deal of leeway in developing classes around our research interests, so each represents a set of ideas and questions I am personally fascinated with. In particular, I love teaching my class on comparative imperial pleasure gardens. It is such an unusual lens through which to look at politics and art in world history — it really pulls people in. I think it is much more serious and meaningful than most people expect, but then it is so visually and culturally interesting that the class gets very engaged and they intellectually just open up. I had a student say once that this class changed the way she thought about the world, which is a pretty cool comment to read in an evaluation.”

Alexander Butler

Alexander Butler

Alexander Butler, professor of finance

“Although I greatly enjoy teaching doctoral courses, my favorite class to teach is BUSI 343, Financial Management. The topics covered in this principles course can be deeply relevant or deadly boring. This provides an interesting challenge in how to make dry material come to life in a way that students will find engaging and memorable.”

Alexander Byrd, associate professor of history

Alexander Byrd

Alexander Byrd

“I have a love-hate relationship with all of my courses. I think that they are quite good in places. But in other places they are just plain blah (which I guess means that I am just plain blah!). A good course has a compelling beginning, middle and end. I’m better, I think, at beginnings. But I almost always foul up big parts of the middle or the end. So each of my courses drives me a little crazy. My favorite students, though, are Rice students. They have a way of making every course challenging and interesting and provocative and worthwhile in an important and particular way. And they deserve better middles and ends in my courses! The first course where I manage to get all three parts going well is going to be my favorite course.”

Carissa Zimmerman, lecturer in psychology

Carissa Zimmerman Espinosa

Carissa Zimmerman Espinosa

“My favorite course to teach is Statistical Methods. When I was an undergraduate, my research methods and statistics course transformed me into a scientist by showing me how to use data to make decisions and understand the world. I love teaching this class because I love shaping students into data-driven critical thinkers. Absolutely nothing can match the pride and accomplishment that I feel when my students challenge scientific reports that they encounter in popular media or design studies to answer questions that arise in their daily lives.”

Jason Hafner, professor of physics and astronomy and of chemistry

Jason Hafner

Jason Hafner

“My favorite among equals is PHYS 102 (Electricity and Magnetism). Electromagnetic theory features all the best parts of physics: interesting history, beautiful symmetry, fun demonstrations and fundamental concepts. The ideas appear hopelessly abstract at first. Students must let go their conscious self and learn to visualize and think mathematically. Throughout the semester we find that these concepts describe the basis for our technological society. I also like to lick the Van de Graaff generator.”

 

Colette Nicolaou, lecturer in psychology

Colette Nicolaou

Colette Nicolaou

“Even more than my classes, I love the students! Psychology 101 is a chance to interact with students from all majors. I can feel sparks in the air as they begin to connect course topics to their other disciplines and to their own lives. It is magical when students share these insights in class and begin to think critically about the application of psychology in their work, their relationships and their personal growth. I am fortunate to get to see some of these students again, a few years later, in Developmental Psychology. At this point their knowledge has evolved so meaningfully, as has their willingness to share their own developmental journey, that I am often learning from them! Regardless of what course I am teaching, my Rice students are what bring me the most joy!

Alma Novotny, lecturer of biochemistry and cell biology

Alma Novotny

Alma Novotny

“I have two favorite classes — Immunology, which I teach as a flipped large-lecture class to undergraduate premeds for the Biochemistry Department, and Plagues and Populations, which I teach to about a dozen adults in the Masters in Liberal Studies (MLS) program in the (Glasscock) School of Continuing Studies. The undergrads are motivated to succeed and are well-prepared, and I can discuss difficult content without a lot of groundwork. I know that anything they take from my course will be knowledge that will support the medical care of lots of people for years to come. On the other hand, there are a lot of students, and I don’t get to know them as well as I’d like or to act proactively on their behalf. My MLS students, on the other hand, are there strictly for the love of learning. The smaller class gives me more flexibility to design projects, and the nature of the program allows me greater freedom to pursue topics in depth. Both groups of students force me to keep current, clarify my ideas, think on my feet and try to anticipate what will be important next year, but in very different ways. I feel totally privileged to teach at Rice.”

Anthony Várilly-Alvarado

Anthony Várilly-Alvarado

Anthony Várilly-Alvarado, associate professor of mathematics

“I’ve enjoyed teaching every one of my classes at Rice, though I am very fond of Math 354: Honors Linear Algebra. It’s unapologetically theoretical, but I get to show people some high-level, real-world applications, like Google’s PageRank algorithm. Undoubtedly what makes this class so fun are Rice students; their commitment to learning and work ethic are astounding. Teaching them is pure joy.”

Julianne Yost, Wiess Instructor of Chemistry

Julianne Yost

Julianne Yost

“My greatest passion is teaching. My favorite course to teach is Organic Chemistry. Simply put, organic examines how molecules containing carbon interact. And I’m fascinated by how electrons flow around and between molecules. But teaching organic is more than just teaching students to memorize the details of every reaction. I find that approach uninspiring. Instead, I firmly believe it’s a course that when taught and learned correctly is not about memorization but is more about problem-solving and applying the basic principles that you know. For many it serves as an introduction to general critical-thinking skills. As future doctors and engineers, the majority of my students will never need to run a Grignard reaction. But hopefully they realize the intuition they gained by solving all of those multistep synthesis problems is the same cognitive skill they will need later on in life.”

About Arie Passwaters

Arie Wilson Passwaters is a Web editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.