Four Professors Receive White Teaching Prize
At a college where faculty, not graduate students, teach every course, exceptional teaching is part of the institutional fabric.
This year a new award was conferred on four outstanding Occidental faculty members who represent each of Occidental's academic disciplines: sciences, social sciences and humanities. The Linda and Tod White Teaching Prize was awarded to Arthur G. Coons Distinguished Professor in the History of Ideas Roger Boesche; professor of kinesiology Stuart Rugg; associate professor of economics Giorgio Secondi; and assistant professor of English and comparative literature, Damian Stocking.
Boesche, who some have said was Barack Obama '83's intellectual mentor at Occidental, is a well-loved senior member of the politics department. On the faculty since 1977, he values the intimacy of a small college community and the research and teaching opportunities the College affords him. “It's a small place and it seems like a place where you can make a difference - where you can leave a mark.” Teaching classes on the history of European and American political thought that run from Jefferson to Nietzsche and even a seminar on tyrannies, Boesche is most interested in students widening their horizons. “Watching students get excited about new ideas, watching the light bulbs go off - that's the exciting part of teaching,” he said. “I don't care what they end up believing, I just want them to question their political ideas and assumptions.” He was surprised and honored, as a senior faculty member, to receive the award. Clearly he has made an impression on his students as one student wrote, “[He is] simply the most incredible human being I've met. He makes understanding complicated political philosophies as easy as reading the Sunday funnies and is always there to help with honest and loving words of wisdom.”
Professor Stuart Rugg has been at Occidental since 1986. Rugg calls teaching at Occidental a “wonderful life” and values the opportunity to really get to know the students. He teaches human anatomy classes as well as a biomechanics seminar and lab that focuses on human muscle movement. “By teaching, I get to share material I find fascinating with a great diversity of students. I have always found that if the instructor's enthusiasm for the material is genuine, the students pick up on that fact and return the energy. I have also learned a great deal from my students over the years so I want to thank and honor them for helping to keep me fired up.” One student named Rugg “the best instructor at Occidental, hands down,” adding, “ he is so engaging in all aspects of the class, including lectures and labs. He kept the topic entertaining and interesting, even for students who are not majoring in the subject.”
Giorgio Secondi laughs at the thought of anyone thinking that economics is a dull subject - “especially now, it's a fantastic time to be talking about the economy.” For him, it's the everyday examples of how economics affects our lives that make it a compelling subject to teach. “I think if you're passionate about your subject and you can make it relate to your students' lives then it resonates with them. We don't teach dry, theoretical models, we use the wealth of real-life examples that exist.” At Occidental since 1998, Secondi teaches core economics classes as well as specialized seminars. He feels honored to be singled out among such distinguished faculty. His students are grateful for his attentiveness and openness. “Giorgio puts in tremendous thought to how his students would best learn the material he teaches, and he is careful to make sure that everybody understands the material well. He is very available during office hours and gives a lot of individual attention,” said one student.
Although he teaches English and comparative literature, Damian Stocking is also known affectionately as “the pop culture professor.” He is quick to point out, however, that it's not the modern pop culture references that enhance ancient literature but, in fact, the other way around. “Ancient texts make pop culture deeper and more meaningful,” he said. “I try to use the passion of the past to redeem the present from boredom.” Stocking teaches various courses from Genres in Classical Literature to The Athenian Experience and he uses student input to create new courses, based on their interests. He considers teaching an experience where he learns with his students. “I don't want students to just repeat what they've learned, I like to discover things as we go. I want them to activate their worlds through the study of literature.” Students clearly appreciate his approach. “As one of the most intellectually gifted people I have ever known, Professor Stocking conducts classes that are consistently scholastically rigorous, well constructed and concerned with the preservation of an inclusive learning community. He is excellent,” remarked one student.
The White Teaching Prize is the result of a generous endowment from Tod White '59 and his wife Linda that also funds The Center for Teaching Excellence at Occidental. The inaugural awards were conferred at this year's Founder's Day celebration in April. Each year, sophomores, juniors and seniors will vote anonymously for up to four professors based on specific criteria, including the teacher's ability to engage students and increase their learning and the teacher's concern for students individually. The Faculty Teaching Prize committee then recommends the winners to the president and dean of the College. The total prize is $5,000 that was, this year, split among the four winners.