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Students pick enthusiastic, clear, accessible teachers for Gore awards

Three professors and a graduate student will receive Walter J. Gores Awards for excellence in teaching at this year's commencement ceremonies on Sunday, June 14.

Nominated mostly by students, they were cited for their passionate enthusiasm for their subject matter and teaching, and for illustrating principles with real-world examples. The awards will go to Samuel Chiu, associate professor of engineering­economic systems and operations research; Mark Denny, professor of biological sciences at Hopkins Marine Station; Stacie Friend, doctoral student and teaching assistant in philosophy; and Brad Gregory, assistant professor of history and director of the History Department's honors program.

Chiu was nominated by dozens of students and alumni of his graduate and undergraduate probability classes. He was cited for his "tireless personal involvement and innovative teaching" and for being a "model of the effective, dynamic and compassionate professor" for his graduate students. In their letters, many of his students said he made "dull" or "boring" probability theory come alive for them by using real-world examples and challenging them to do the same. (On the first day of one class, he bet the 30 students that two would have a birthday on the same day.)

They noted Chiu was always improving upon his teaching techniques and was available for student consultation at all hours, taking an interest in their interests. Chiu is currently working on an "interactive learner" system that uses "QuickTime" movies as a more flexible and efficient way of teaching probability theory than one-on-one tutoring.

Denny was similarly commended for "leading even the mathematically timid into the fascinating world of biophysics and its intricate derivations" by illustrating its many practical uses. He also was cited for "devoting himself to teaching as a skill, an art and a profound involvement with students' intellectual journey inside and outside the classroom." One student noted that he learned the value of "attitude over data" from Denny when a giant wave washed away much of his carefully recorded data and Denny showed him how to supplement the remaining data with other forms of analysis.

Friend also possesses a contagious enthusiasm for her subject, according to the students who nominated her for the award. She was cited for leading clear, precise and warm discussions in fast-paced courses of philosophy of science and the philosophy of the mind, for formulating exceptionally useful and detailed handouts and for her thorough evaluation of student papers. Students also noted her ability to clarify difficult philosophical arguments for them by pulling examples from popular culture, such as examining different conceptions of free will by analyzing one's desire to eat a chocolate chip cookie.

Gregory was cited for his personal warmth; "detailed, challenging and enthralling lectures" on social and religious history; and his accessibility to students for one-on-one consultations. Students who did not think they were very interested in history or religion said he changed their minds by leading fascinating discussions in which everyone participated. One student analyzed how Gregory got such good participation: "He worked out a system where students write up comments and questions regarding the weekly reading assignments and e-mail them to a class list the night before the discussion section. This has proven to be very effective way to insure that students do the reading on time and that they have thought about the topics before the section, which makes the discussion more efficient, interesting and worthwhile."

The Gore awards were created to recognize excellence of teaching at any level and in any form at Stanford. They are named for Professor Walter J. Gores, a member of the Stanford Class of 1917.


By Kathleen O'Toole

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