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Three on Cornell faculty named 1996 Weiss Presidential Fellows for distinguished teaching of undergraduates

Cornell University President Hunter Rawlings has named the 1996 Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellows, honoring their "effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching of undergraduate students."

The honorees, announced at a May 25 dinner on campus, are: Frederick M. Ahl, professor of classics; Daniel P. Huttenlocher, associate professor of computer science; and Lois S. Willett, associate professor of agricultural research and managerial economics.

The awards -- $25,000 each over five years -- are named for the chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees, Stephen H. Weiss '57, who endowed the program. Each year the Weiss Presidential Fellows Selection Committee seeks nominations from junior and senior students, faculty and academic staff for the distinguished fellowships, from which the committee selects a half dozen candidates for the president's final selections.

Candidates, nominated by juniors and seniors, faculty or academic staff, are screened each winter and spring by a committee headed by the secretary of the faculty. Final decisions are made by the president.

Fellows carry their titles as long as they stay at Cornell and may hold them concurrently with other named professorships. This year's honorees came highly recommended:

Frederick M. Ahl

Ahl studied classics at Cambridge University, where he received bachelor's and master's degrees, and at the University of Texas, where he received his doctoral degree. He taught at the Texas Military Institute, Trinity University, University of Texas at Austin and University of Utah before joining the Cornell faculty in 1971.

His courses have addressed a myriad of topics, including Greek and Roman epic, drama and intellectual history. When not directing the classroom, he has played a major role in theater productions in Ithaca, including those of the Cornell Savoyards.

Ahl received the Clark Award for Distinguished Teaching from Cornell in 1977 and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989-90. He recently served as director of a series of National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars for School Teachers in Spetses, Greece, and as director of Cornell Abroad in Greece.

In nominating Ahl for the Weiss Fellowship, student Michael P. McGrann wrote, "He is a proponent of tearing down the wall of formality that often exists between students and their professors: He arranges meetings at the Temple of Zeus rather than sit in his office, and he invites entire classes to his home for dinner and a movie. He understands that interaction between students and professors -- as well as between students and students -- is a valuable part of a university career, not only for the students but for the professors."

Barry S. Strauss, director of peace studies and a professor of history and classics who has known Ahl for 25 years wrote, "When it comes to making the ancient world come alive, Fred stands second to no one I have known here and in several other institutions of higher education."

Daniel P. Huttenlocher

Huttenlocher has been associate professor of computer science since 1994 and was assistant professor since 1988. He also is principal scientist at Xerox Corp.'s Systems and Practices Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif., where he has worked, mostly during summers, since 1988.

An expert in robotics and computer vision, Huttenlocher is an award-winning teacher. At Cornell, he was named three times as an Outstanding Educator for having most influenced a Cornell Merrill Presidential Scholar. In 1993, he was selected as New York State Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation.

Also in 1993, Huttenlocher earned the Russell Distinguished Teaching Award in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Tau Beta Pi and Cornell Society of Engineers Award for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Engineering. A former Presidential Young Investigator (1990-1995), Huttenlocher won the Faculty of the Year Award from the Association of Computer Science Undergraduates at Cornell in 1992.

Huttenlocher remodeled the honors section of an introductory-level computer science course and, with Bruce Donald, associate professor of computer science, developed a senior-level robotics and vision course that has expanded into the nation's first undergraduate robotics lab.

Huttenlocher earned the Ph.D. (1988) and graduate degree (1984) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan (1980).

According to the nominating letter from Robert L. Constable, chair of the Department of Computer Science, Huttenlocher "is a teacher of the caliber that comes along perhaps once in a generation, and I believe that he is already in the class of those who have been designated as Weiss Fellows.

"By his selfless devotion to his teaching and research, Dan conveys to the students their importance to him, and they respond to it. When we approached several of his students last year about writing supporting letters for this nomination, we learned that they had already started a nomination package on their own. They were quite willing to combine their efforts with ours, but we find it telling that their esteem for Dan was such that they would undertake this task unasked."

A former student, Eric Jaquith, wrote: "His whole energy and soul went into his teaching; his priority was the students' understanding and well-being in their education. His contribution to my education was immeasurable."

Lois Schertz Willett

Willett was selected for a sustained program of highly effective teaching in several large courses, including price analysis, information systems and decision models, and econometrics. She introduced computer technologies into her lecture and laboratory course and has bridged economic theory and analytical methods by arranging for students to hold "course conversations" with corporate executives.

In 1994 Willett was awarded a State University of New York Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and she was presented this year with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Professor of Merit Award, elected by students. She also has received the 1996 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences award from the Faculty Technology Initiative Program for Undergraduate Course Enhancement.

Willett grew up in northern Virginia and earned her bachelor's degree in mathematics at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va. She then earned her master's degree in systems modeling at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., and received her doctorate from the University of California at Davis.

In 1987 Cornell appointed her assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, and she was promoted to associate professor in 1995.

"While my impression was that the value of course work is often realized long after graduation, my experience in Professor Willett's information systems and decision analysis class last fall proved otherwise," wrote Rohit Mehrotra, one of Willett's former students. "The value of the class lay in her ability to perfectly match the teaching style with the needs of the students. From its onset, Professor Willett paved an applied approach to this upper-level agricultural resource and managerial economics class, which has been instrumental in my personal job search."

Willett's colleagues also have noticed her zest for teaching: "The content of her courses combine the latest in theory and analytical methods, yet are current and relevant to the real world," said George Casler, emeritus professor and chair of the Department Awards Committee. "Her enthusiasm stems from a desire to understand a body of knowledge and explain it to students so they can apply their knowledge to analyze real world situations.

"Lois is always available to meet the needs of students when they are confronted with difficult problems," Casler said. "She encourages the students to acknowledge their situation, think of alternative solutions, develop a plan to deal with the situation and then act on the plan."

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