Faculty recognized for mentoring and classroom excellence

The three teaching award winnersFrom left: Kristen Mascall, Aparna Baskaran and Anita Hannig

Three Brandeis faculty have been recognized for their work in the classroom with the university’s 2017-18 teaching awards.

Students, faculty and alumni annually nominate faculty members who have impacted their lives for the Lerman-Neubauer ’69 Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoringthe Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Teaching; and the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching. The awards are overseen by the Committee for the Support of Teaching on behalf of the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Dean and Arts and Sciences Susan Birren presented the awards to the following winners in a faculty meeting on April 20:

Anita Hannig: Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Teaching

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Reed College, Hannig received her MA and PhD from the University of Chicago.  Her current research focuses on medical anthropology; the anthropology of religion; gender and the body; and the anthropology of death and dying.

Her book "Beyond Surgery: Injury, Healing, and Religion at an Ethiopian Hospital" was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2017, and her articles have been published in Africa, Anthropology and Medicine, the Journal of Religion in Africa and American Anthropologist.  She is now engaged in ethnographic research on access to medical aid-in-dying, and how this aid has changed the way North American patients and their families view and manage the end of life. She joined the Brandeis faculty in 2012 as a Florence Levy Kay Fellow, before being appointed an assistant professor of anthropology. Her courses include Medicine, Body, and Culture, The Anthropology of Gender, Anthropology of Death and Dying, Medicine and Religion, Advanced Topics in Medical Anthropology and the Health, Science Society and Policy capstone Integrative Seminar on Health.

Students who nominated Hannig said:

  • Professor Hannig's course "Medicine, Body, and Culture" challenged me to think about medicine and healing through cross-cultural lenses. Professor Hannig fosters student participation through discussion questions and is patient as students negotiate their own experience with other cultures' experiences and explanations of illness and disease. She encourages students to meet with her in office hours and provides guidance for assignments and research. Outside of the classroom, Professor Hannig is involved with anthropology student events and promotes anthropology to students.” 
  • Professor Hannig should be recognized for her excellent teaching skills because of her availability and devotion to her students outside of the classroom. She met with each student before all of the papers were due to brainstorm ideas and to answer questions. She helped me transform my paper which had an unclear thesis and a weak argument into one that got me an A in the class that I chose to uncover. Her class opened my eyes to the world and it was an invaluable experience.

Aparna Baskaran: Lerman-Neubauer ’69 Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring

Baskaran earned her MS at the Raman School of Physics Pondicherry University in Puducherry, India, and her PhD at the University of Florida, where she won numerous teaching and research awards, before her appointment as a postdoc at Syracuse University. Trained as a theoretical physicist, she came to Brandeis in 2010 and now focuses on understanding out-of-equilibrium properties of soft materials and the physics of biological systems. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, including an NSF CAREER Award, and her articles have been published in such journals as the Physical Review, Nature Physics, Soft Matter, and the Journal of Statistical Mechanics.

Her courses at Brandeis, for which she has partially flipped classes and created a set of virtual experiments using Mathematica and Python, include Waves and Oscillations, Quantum Theory, Introduction to Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics, and Principles of Soft Materials Theory.

Students who nominated Baskaran said:

  • Aparna Baskaran is one of the greatest professors I have ever had the pleasure of working with. She cares an enormous amount about her students and their learning and well-being. In the classroom, she creates a fun learning environment thanks to her positive demeanor, hilarious jokes, and most importantly, her deep understanding that her students would not understand the material immediately and will need to struggle first before succeeding. This understanding is something I seldom see in a teacher of any level, and it is extremely refreshing that our professor knows and is comfortable with the fact that we as students will not understand everything from the get-go. There is never a dull moment in her class, and she makes sure to keep us engaged and prevent lectures from getting stale by incorporating "whiteboard days" where we sit and do problems together with her supervision and guidance and the occasional online video and/or simulation. And she is always looking to improve the quality of class and tutorial sessions, as she continually asks for our thoughts on the matter and even had us partake in a mid-year audit after the midterm, after which she appropriately addressed and fixed all the issues the students had with the course.”
  • Aparna is a fabulous lecturer. In addition, she is a very insightful and caring individual who is devoted to her students. She worked with me one on one for many hours to make sure that I understood the material. I am not the only one she has done this for. I honestly don’t know where she finds the time. She is without a doubt the most dedicated and passionate professor that I ever had.

Kristen Mascall: Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Mascall received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of the West Indies and her PhD from Dartmouth College. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Boston University before joining the Brandeis faculty in 2014.

At Brandeis, she teaches Organic Chemistry I and II, Honors General Chemistry II and the Organic Chemistry Laboratory I and II, supervises more than 20 TAs each semester, writes over a hundred letters of recommendation per year for undergraduates, and serves as a first-year advisor and on the Brandeis Premedical Board. She has also served on the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and the subcommittee for Independent Interdisciplinary Majors. 

Students who nominated Mascall said:

  • I have never seen any professor so committed to helping undergraduates as Dr. Mascall. For every hour of lecture, she had three office hours. She organized extra review sessions, even giving up one of her weekends to come in and hold extra office hours. But the time was worth it for her students. She never talked down to us, she never made us seem stupid, but instead explained everything clearly, concisely, and politely. She held a commanding presence in the lecture hall, one that had nearly every student giving her the undivided attention she deserved. She respected every question, from inquiries into the quantum schema to the trivial. Her intense passion for the subject (was) evidenced by her numerous application examples and supplementals on Latte. Professor Mascall managed to at once be energetic about the subject, yet approachable and level-headed. Organic Chemistry is considered a nightmare class by many college students, but Dr. Mascall made it fun and accessible to everyone. Brandeis is immensely fortunate to have such a wonderful professor.
  • Dr. Mascall really tries to make a subject (organic chemistry) that is otherwise abstract and hard to connect to into something applicable in our lives. She cares about her students and notes their development in her grading policies. Organic chemistry is a tough subject and so exams are naturally something that cause a lot of stress, but the additional help and resources that Dr. Mascall strives to provide really makes the subject doable. On multiple occasions, I walked into her office hours looking for clarification about course material and she handled each time like a professional, really listening to what I had to say and responding respectfully and fairly.

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