Brandeis faculty honored with annual teaching and mentorship awards

Headshots of award winnersPhoto/Mike Lovett

Left to right: Award winners Antonella Di Lillo, Hannah Muller, Faith Smith, Timothy Streets, and Michael Willrich

Five faculty members have been recognized for their excellence in the classroom with 2019-20 teaching awards.

Students, faculty and alumni annually nominate faculty for these teaching and mentoring awards: The Lerman-Neubauer ’69 Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring; the Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Teaching; the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching; the Dean of Arts & Sciences Faculty Service Award; and the Dean’s Mentoring Award.

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 Dorothy Hodgson presented the awards to the faculty May 21.

The following faculty members received awards:

2020 Dean of Arts & Sciences Faculty Service Award

Winner: Faith Smith, associate professor of African and African American studies and English and American literature

The award is given to an outstanding faculty member of the graduate school who has impacted his or her students' education inside and outside the classroom. It carries a $2,500 prize.

Why colleagues nominated Smith:

“Faith is a brilliant scholar, a fantastic teacher and an excellent colleague. Her service goes far beyond what she is recognized or compensated for. Long before AAAS had the kind of status it currently does on campus, Faith had the heavy burden of chairing the department and of being asked to mentor almost every junior faculty of color new to campus.”

“Faith has been a longstanding and consistent advocate for making racial and ethnic diversity a cornerstone of Brandeis hiring. Her dedicated leadership and unfailingly thoughtful contributions to discussions of race and racism on campus have benefited her immediate graduate and undergraduate advisees, and the Brandeis community as a whole — not to mention her activities in the Graduate Consortium for women's and gender studies.”

2020 Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching:  

Winner: Antonella Di Lillo, associate professor of computer science

The award honors an individual for his or her outstanding teaching. It carries a $2,500 prize.

Why students nominated Di Lillo:

“Antonella has been a consistent, positive force in my education while at Brandeis. From the moment she stood in front of her class and told her students that she cares more about their learning and succeeding in life than about the minute aspects of the grading itself, she has time after time proven her caring for her students.”

“I have never had another professor who can make a student understand the material as elegantly and brilliantly as she does. She has such a perfect understanding of not only the content she teaches, but also of how students' brains work and what to say to answer a student's question, even when we don't know exactly what we don't know. So many times she has explained very complicated and non-trivial concepts in a way that makes them seem intuitive.”

2020 Michael L. Walzer '56 Award for Teaching

Winner: Hannah Muller, assistant professor of history

The award is presented annually to a tenure-track faculty member who combines superlative scholarship with inspired teaching. It carries a $2,500 prize.

Why students nominated Muller:

“Within the classroom, she is an instructor that meets students where they are, and gives them the tools to connect with the content of the class. She also makes sure to give all students who wish to contribute to the class discussion the chance to do so, while still making sure that the conversation stays on topic. Outside of the classroom, she is an understanding, supportive and kind individual who is able to support her students both in learning and in their personal lives.”

“Professor Muller is committed to getting students to question the way that history has been written about. For example, in my Gender and Sexuality in South Asia class, Professor Muller discussed where she disagreed with the interpretations of historians. Most professors I have had thus far have not been willing to disagree with what has been assumed as correct. Professor Muller is unafraid to speak up and let us know why history is written this way. Not only that, but Professor Muller is extremely helpful inside and outside of the classroom. She will re-explain the information so that everyone understands. Professor Muller wants you to succeed, she wants you to find a passion in history, and she wants to make learning fun.”

2020 Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer '69 and Joseph Neubauer Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring

Winner: Michael Willrich, Leff Families Professor of History

Awarded to an individual involved in the co-curricular and extracurricular life of campus who has also made a significant impact on students' lives as an exceptional teacher, mentor, adviser and friend. It carries a $5,000 prize.

Why students nominated Willrich:

“I think Professor Willrich is unique because of how deeply and strongly he feels about all the topics we cover. He is very passionate about his studies, and yet also talks so objectively and effectively about the topics and engages kids in very involved analysis and discourse.”

“Professor Willrich is the ultimate example of what it means to be a scholar and teacher. He cares deeply about students and makes it a priority to ensure all students in his classroom are heard. He is always available to talk with students and give advice and provide guidance. After our final class, several students made a point of going up to Professor Willrich and personally thanking him for an engaging and enlightening class.”

2020 Dean’s Mentoring Award

Winner: Timothy Street, assistant professor of biochemistry

The award is given to a faculty member who demonstrates “outstanding ability as a mentor” in the supervision of students enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The award also gives current GSAS students and GSAS alumni the opportunity to nominate a faculty member and celebrate the support and guidance they have received in their education both inside and outside the classroom. The award carries a $2,500 prize.

Why students and colleagues nominated Street:

“My productivity in graduate school and my development as a scientist are a direct result of Timo’s outstanding mentorship and guidance.”

“He is available to students, open minded, extremely patient, and very supportive of students to explore different possibilities.”

“He took the time on multiple occasions to ensure that I properly understood the problems I was attempting to solve and made the experience incredibly enjoyable. While I did not join his lab for my thesis project, I consider him a pivotal part of my PhD journey and one of the most helpful people that I've worked with.”

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