Skip to main content

Annual fellowships reward sustained excellence in the teaching of undergraduate students

Cornell President Hunter Rawlings has named the university's 1998 Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellows, honoring effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching of undergraduate students.

The winners, to be honored at a dinner on campus Thursday, Oct. 22, are: Ali S. Hadi, professor and chair of the Department of Social Statistics; Michael C. Kelley, professor in the School of Electrical Engineering; and Isaac Kramnick, the Richard J. Schwartz Professor and chair of the Department of Government.

The awards -- $25,000 each over five years -- are named for the immediate past president of the Cornell Board of Trustees, Stephen H. Weiss '57, who endowed the program. Each year a selection committee, composed of faculty members and students, seeks nominations from junior and senior students, faculty and other academic staff for the distinguished fellowships. The committee selects a half-dozen nominees, and the final decisions are made by the president.

"At Cornell, we are determined to offer excellent teaching, not as an afterthought to our research and scholarship, but as an organic extension of the faculty's distinction in these areas," said Rawlings. "We are grateful for the support that Steve Weiss has given to Cornell as we strive to offer the best undergraduate experience available at any research university in the United States."

Fellows carry their titles as long as they stay at Cornell and may hold them concurrently with other named professorships.

Here are biographies of this year's honorees, adapted from their nominating materials:

Ali S. Hadi

During his Cornell career, Hadi has taught over the whole range of courses in statistics -- from the large entry-level course ILR 210, taught through his first year as department chair, to a variety of more advanced courses, in both mainstream statistical areas and in modern applications, over the past three years.

Students have characterized Hadi's teaching style as "engaging," "creative," open, participatory and adaptable to the particular learning patterns of particular students.

He received his master of science and master of philosophy degrees in statistics in 1980 and 1982, respectively, and the Ph.D in statistics, with honors, in 1984, all from New York University. He has taught at Cornell since 1984 and has been chair of the Department of Social Statistics in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations since 1994.

One of Hadi's faculty colleagues said, "Ali is an extraordinarily dedicated and gifted teacher. Teaching statistics, a subject that many find intimidating, Ali manages to convey to his students the sense that he is approachable and easy to talk with. He tells his students that ... even after they have completed his course, they are welcome to come to him for advice, both statistical and otherwise."

And students have given personal examples of how he has reached beyond classroom teaching or formal advising to make a real difference in their lives: in one case, he put in the extra effort to help a student do an independent study version of ILR 312; in another case, he worked intensively with a student recovering from a serious accident, helping her to make the most of an academic term seriously affected by that accident.

At Cornell, Hadi has accumulated several citations based on his outstanding teaching: He received an Amoco Foundation Faculty Award in recognition of superior teaching skills exhibited over several years in 1992; he was cited by a Merrill Presidential Scholar as a most-influential teacher in 1993; and he was a recipient of the Schering-Plough Award for Exemplary Teaching for 1996-97 by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations Teaching Advisory Committee, based on undergraduate student assessments and recommendations.

While attending to his undergraduate students, Hadi is a major presence in his field of scholarship. He is a fellow of the American Statistical Association and of the Royal Statistical Society. He serves as a reviewer and editorial board member for a number of professional journals and is author or co-author of a continuing stream of articles in those journals and of chapters in survey works.

Hadi also has made significant contributions to teaching tools in the area of statistics, and he is a leader in his department's strong commitment to quality teaching. He was a charter member of ILR's Teaching Advisory Committee, established in 1992, and in that role, he has worked to develop a new program to encourage continuing improvement of teaching by ILR faculty.

Hadi's range in undergraduate education is exemplary. In the classroom, he has succeeded in giving life and energy to a technical, mathematical subject matter, and his interactions with undergraduate students are strong and supportive.

"When I arrived at Cornell four years ago," writes one of his students. "I was intimidated and awe-struck by the intellectual and competitive environment. Professor Hadi, as my faculty adviser ... dispelled the myths and unfounded fears that I held.... He encouraged me not only to do my best, but to strive to be the best at what I did."

Michael C. Kelley

Kelley has been a Cornell faculty member since 1975, having received his bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Kent State University (where he had an athletic scholarship for basketball) and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley.

His classroom teaching has been both distinguished and all encompassing -- he has taught freshman mathematics and engineering courses, large sophomore courses, foundation sciences courses to juniors, specialty senior-level courses and graduate courses. His student evaluations have been outstanding, whether looking at numerical scores or individual comments, such as "Professor Kelley was awesome," and "this is a fantastic course."

Kelley has received many awards and recognitions related to undergraduate teaching during his Cornell career. They include the IEEE Award for the outstanding teacher of the year in electrical engineering, 1979-80; the Excellence in Teaching Award in Engineering from Tau Beta Pi and the Cornell Society of Engineers, 1980-81; the Joel and Ruth Spira Award for Excellence in Teaching, 1986-87; the Dean's Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching and Advising in engineering, 1994; and the Robert '55 and Vanne '57 Cowie Award for Excellence in Teaching, 1997.

Further evidence of his outstanding contribution to undergraduate education at Cornell is shown by his creation of a program called Academic Excellence Workshops (AEW), developed to reach freshmen and sophomores in mathematics and physics courses who would normally be at risk within the College of Engineering. This program is particularly important for women and underrepresented minorities, but it includes all students willing to make a commitment to learning outside the traditional classroom. The concept evolved from programs originally developed by and for African-American students in engineering. The bases for the program are that students learn best from each other and expecting excellence produces excellence. At Cornell, AEW reaches some 200 mathematics students per year and has been adopted by the Department of Physics for its large undergraduate courses. Freshmen and sophomores in the program form small groups, practicing problems more difficult than normally taught in the classroom. The practice problems are developed by upper-class students called "facilitators." Kelley also has generated a program to produce these facilitators, through the course Engineering 470, Undergraduate Engineering Teaching. Both have received very satisfying student responses.

In the spring of 1996, engineering Dean John Hopcroft wrote to 500 alumni from the class of 1990 and asked them who were the three most influential teachers they encountered during their

four years at Cornell, and Kelley's name was mentioned prominently in the approximately 143 replies. One reply mentioned that Kelley had invited the student to help with the solutions to his textbook. Many letters from other students have mentioned Kelley as a dedicated adviser. He often tutors his advisees in his own and other courses, he has inspired many undergraduates to continue graduate studies in his areas of interest, and he encourages freshmen and other undergraduates to engage in scholarly research by forming research teams and by providing students with summer research positions.

Considered an outstanding scholar in his field, Kelley has been a leading inspiration in a variety of research methods used to probe the upper atmosphere and the near-space regions of the earth, carrying out projects in Peru, Greenland, the South Pacific and Puerto Rico. He has produced Ph.D. students representing Cornell worldwide, has published two books and numerous research articles, has received research awards from scholarly societies and has been a member and chairman of numerous research committees.

As a teacher, he has made it possible for many students at high risk, because of early difficulties with mathematics and physics, to overcome these difficulties and go on to successful completion of their studies and fruitful careers in engineering.

Isaac Kramnick

A past winner of the Clark Distinguished Teaching Award, Kramnick has been, for years, one of the university's most popular and respected teachers.

He has consistently taught large lecture courses, including Government 161, Introduction to Political Philosophy, for 25 years, which serves upward of 300 students; and Government 366, Madison to Malcolm X, first taught by Kramnick three years ago, which serves 200 students. In both of these classes, he is able to create a vital, intimate classroom atmosphere that involves every student.

Undergraduates praise Kramnick's ability to make modern students appreciate the often difficult theories of their intellectual forebears, such as Locke and Hobbes, in a classroom that values discovery and intellectual openness. Many students celebrate his intellectual honesty, his passion for ideas, his playful use of humor and personal narrative and his "great intellectual play." Students value his tendency to treat them as "young intellectuals" with the ability to make good, informed decisions. As one student has written, "He [ Kramnick] had no interest in imposing any of his own views on me; he wanted only to assist me in finding a voice and to make sure I could critically evaluate all kinds of views."

Students also have testified to his generous sponsorship of independent studies and tutorials.

Kramnick was one of the founding members of the Faculty Fellows and Faculty-in-Residence Program, which has helped transform the learning environment of the residence halls on campus. He has acted as faculty adviser to Candid Courses, the student-run journal that evaluates undergraduate courses for other prospective students; he has chaired the committee to reform the distribution requirements in the College of Arts and Sciences; and he introduced a new honors curriculum for the government major. This year, he serves on the University Committee on Restructuring West Campus Residential Life.

His work on restructuring the Arts College curriculum (with the new requirement for quantitative and spatial reasoning) and his participation in the college's Freshman Colloquium, which he helped create, also testify to his commitment.

Students also have praised Kramnick as a generous, hard-working faculty adviser. Although he is government department chair with 55 advisees, students praise his "accessibility," his "forthrightness" and his "ability to listen to them with respect and genuine empathy."

One student writes that while on leave in England, Kramnick arranged for the student to meet a member of the House of Lords, simply because Kramnick knew the student would enjoy the encounter. Others mention his important contribution to the intellectual life of Cornell Hillel and the Cornell Young Democrats.

Kramnick graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1959, spent a year at Cambridge University and earned a Ph.D. at Harvard in 1965. He joined the faculty at Cornell in 1972.

A noted specialist in British and American political philosophy, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences and London's Royal Historical Society and a former president of the American Society for 18th Century Studies; he also is a Guggenheim Fellow. Kramnick has edited, co-authored and written 20 books on Anglo-American political ideas.

Known as a brilliant lecturer, a generous mentor and a distinguished scholar, Kramnick has had a major impact on campus life. His contributions to the undergraduate experience -- as a teacher, Faculty Fellow, associate dean, advisor to numerous student groups, member of university committees, past member of the board of trustees and chair of the government department -- have been noteworthy.

Two years ago, Kramnick was selected "Best Cornell Professor" by the Cornell Daily Sun, further evidence of his continuing passion for undergraduate teaching.


Media Contact

Media Relations Office