Dean Birren names teaching, mentoring award winners

Student nominators praise Professors Katz, Morris, Shostak and Freeze

Teaching and mentoring award winners for 2013, from left, Donald B. Katz, James R. Morris, Sara Shostak and ChaeRan Yoo Freeze.

Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan Birren announced the four 2013 winners of major teaching and mentoring awards in the School of Arts and Sciences at a faculty meeting today:

  • Associate Professor of Psychology Donald B. Katz, PhD, was awarded the Lerman-Neubauer '69 Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring.
  • Assistant Professor of Sociology Sara Shostak, PhD, won the Michael L. Walzer '56 Award for Teaching. 
  • Associate Professor of Biology James R. Morris, PhD, won the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching.
  • Associate Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Women's and Gender Studies ChaeRan Yoo Freeze, PhD, received the Dean's Mentoring Award for Outstanding Mentoring of Students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Also yesterday, Dean Lisa Lynch announced Heller School of Social Policy and Management teaching, mentoring and staff awards.

Donald B. Katz

The 2013 recipient of the Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer ‘69 and Joseph Neubauer Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring is Associate Professor of Psychology Donald B. Katz, PhD.  The prize, established by Trustee Jeanette Lerman at the time of her marriage to Joseph Neubauer, requires its recipient to be not only an exceptional teacher, but also a person who is a presence in the co-curricular and extracurricular life of students, and who is known to be an exceptional mentor and advisor.

Katz has been teaching at Brandeis since 2002, after completing his BA in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences at Brown, his PhD in Clinical Psychology and Neural Science at Indiana University and a postdoc at Duke Medical Center’s Department of Neurobiology. His courses include “Introduction to Behavioral Neuroscience” which enrolls more than 150 students, “Graduate Proseminar in Neuroscience,” and “Advanced Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience.” During his time at Brandeis he has advised first-year students and majors, served as the neuroscience graduate advising head and on senior thesis and dissertation committees. He has supervised undergraduates working in his lab and the lab rotations of neuroscience grad students, and has been an invited presenter to all students and their families at First Year Orientation, and at meetings organized by the Neuroscience Club and Neuro UDRs, and at information sessions for science and psychology majors. He is a previous recipient of the Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Teaching. His university service includes membership on the First Year Advising Committee, the Committee on Academic Standing, the Graduate Admissions Committee for Neuroscience and the Volen Center steering committee.  

Katz’s research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the NSF Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience program. He is also a recipient of the Ajinomoto Award for Young Investigators in Gustation and the Polak Award from the Association for Chemoreception Sciences, a society of neuroscientists involved in taste and smell research. His articles have been published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, Neuron, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Physiology and Behavior, Journal of Neuroscience, Learning and Memory, Psychological Science, Brain and Language and Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 

“Don goes above and beyond his role as a professor,” one of his student nominators wrote. “My first encounter of his advising really came when he told me the right way to go about asking for research positions. Don was incredibly helpful in not only the search for a lab, but also the securing of a position. In class, Don is one of the most engaging and interesting lecturers a student could have. If a topic has been challenged recently and what was once thought true is actually completely wrong, then he will let you know. Both in and out of the classroom, Don Katz showcases everything that is outstanding in a professor and mentor."


Sara Shostak

Assistant Professor of Sociology Sara Shostak, PhD, is the 31st recipient of the Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Teaching. This award is given annually to a tenure-track assistant professor who combines superlative scholarship with inspired teaching.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Reed College who earned her MPH and PhD degrees from the Universities of California, Shostak joined the Brandeis faculty in 2006 after serving as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University. She teaches courses in “Sociology of Science, Technology, and Medicine,” “Sociology of Body and Health,” “Environment, Health, and Society” and “Qualitative Sociology,” and graduate courses in “Field Methods,” “Inequality and Health” and “Approaches to Sociological Research.” Her courses often incorporate experiential learning, writing intensive or oral communications components, such as a journal club section in which students present research articles related to course themes and topics.

Her book “Exposed Science: Genes, the Environment, and the Politics of Population Health,” which draws on in-depth interviews and ethnographic observation with nearly 100 environmental health scientists, policy makers, and environmental health and justice activists, was published by the University of California Press earlier this year. Her articles have appeared in journals such as Sociology of Health and Illness, Social Science and Medicine, Teaching Sociology, the Annual Review of Sociology, and the American Journal of Sociology, where she served as associate editor of a special issue focused on “Exploring Genetics and Social Structure.” Her research and teaching have been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the ASA Teaching Enhancement Fund, and the Epilepsy Foundation, to name only a few. 

At Brandeis, Shostak is an active member of the Experiential Learning Committee, the steering committee of Environmental Studies and the Health: Science, Society, and Policy Executive Committee. She has also served as undergraduate advising head for the sociology major, and as an adviser to first-year students, senior thesis candidates and PhD students, and as a mentor to Schiff Fellows. 

Students in her classes call her approachable, focused, passionate, open, caring yet strict, challenging and motivating, and a clear, intuitive and thought-provoking lecturer.

“Sara Shostak is simply the best teacher I have ever encountered in my life,” one of her student nominators wrote. “Professor Shostak has the most incredible way of engaging a large lecture class as if it was a seminar. She creates a safe space so that each student feels comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns. I have never met a more enthusiastic instructor. She has inspired me to take my studies to the next step and pursue things that I would never have dreamed of. “


James R. Morris

The 28th recipient of the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching is Associate Professor of Biology James R. Morris, PhD.

Morris earned his AB, PhD and MD degrees from Harvard. After teaching “Genomics” and “Genetics” at Harvard and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard Center for Genomics Research and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, he began teaching at Brandeis in 2006. His courses include “Evolution,” “Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy,” “The Biology and Culture of Deafness,” “Epigenetics,” a First Year Seminar on “Darwin’s On the Origin of Species” and the “Project Laboratory in Genetics and Genomics.” He has participated in workshops or meetings organized by the National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education in Biology, the AAAS Introductory Biology Project and the Rethinking Majors Biology Teaching Workshop. 

Morris has published journal articles in Genetics and Science, and is the lead author of "Biology: How Life Works," a new college-level introductory biology textbook which emphasizes ways of thinking and key concepts that scientists use to understand the world around them and solve contemporary problems. He is co-principal investigator on an NSF grant on “The Molecular Basis of Thermal Preference Variation in Drosophila.” 

At Brandeis, he has chaired the Biology Curriculum Committee, and served on the Premedical Board of Advisors, the Committee on University Writing, the Oral Communications Committee and the Teaching with Technology Committee. He is also an affiliate of the Education, Environmental Studies and HSSP programs. Each year he advises 45 to 50 students, and writes 70 to 75 letters of recommendation.  

“Professor Morris is an amazing professor, adviser and mentor,” one of his student nominators wrote. “He is a dynamic and interactive teacher who really cares about his students and their grasp of the course material. In both of the classes I took with Professor Morris, I was blown away by his enthusiasm for the subject, his well-formulated lectures, and the diverse and creative nature of the assignments. I have learned so much from him—about science, about pedagogy and about being a caring and dedicated person. Professor Morris epitomizes the ideal of a Brandeis professor and has enriched my experience as a student here so much.”


ChaeRan Yoo Freeze

ChaeRan Freeze, PhD, a professor in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and in Women’s and Gender Studies, is this year’s recipient of the Graduate Mentor Award in Arts and Sciences.

Freeze received her BA at the University of California, Irvine, and her MA and PhD at Brandeis. She has published research on Jewish families and Jewish history in Russia and Eastern Europe, and has received several awards, honors and grants. 

“When I had her for the NEJS graduate proseminar, she recognized from my comments in class that I might be interested in women’s and gender issues, although I had originally entered the program with a different direction in mind,” one student nominator wrote. “When I agreed with her observation and expressed my surprise at this new area of interest, she eagerly offered up several interesting research areas and research materials. When I expressed interest in one of them, she told me about available grants and helped me draft my grant proposal.”

From another student: “Even those taking her courses as electives are often enchanted with her ability to make history come alive. Even for the non-historians among us, the craft of deconstructing history raises awareness about how social discourse is shaped. We all begin to see ourselves as agents in the construction of culture…Her practice is to broaden our perception by suggesting projects that inspire students to continue the conversation and, in many cases, to advance in the field, seek funding for research, apply for professional positions and grow as professionals…By mentoring others, she has trained many of us to become mentors ourselves.”

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management's annual awards also were announced today and are reported in a separate article. The International Business School will not announce its awards until graduation week.

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