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Four on faculty named Weiss fellows

Cornell professors Harry Greene, Paul Sawyer, Robert Smith and Robert Thorne have been chosen for this year's Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowships, the Cornell Board of Trustees announced at the Jan. 21-22 meeting in New York City.

Established by the board in 1992, Weiss fellowships recognize tenured faculty members who have "sustained records of effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching of undergraduate students and of contributions to undergraduate education." The award comes with $5,000 per year for five years, to be used for any university-related purpose.

Greene, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, was recognized for his love of teaching and willingness to help students, as the selection committee wrote, "with wisdom, humor, grace and compassion." It was noted that in the large introductory biology course for non-majors, Greene communicates knowledge and joy in the subject "so well that students are fascinated, often discovering a previously unsuspected interest and even passion for biology," his award letter reads. He was also called equally effective in the most advanced courses, where "your eminence in the field is most evident."

Sawyer, professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, was cited in the award letter for his "legendary" course Politics and Culture in the 1960s and his creative, interdisciplinary approach and deep commitment to students. One colleague, it continued, called Sawyer a "teacher of teachers" as exemplified by his work as director of the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. Finally, Sawyer's impacts go beyond Cornell students, the letter stated, with his instructional program at the Auburn Correctional Facility, where he has involved many students as assistants.

Smith, professor of labor economics in the ILR School, was described as embodying "the very best of the culture of mentorship" at the ILR School. He played a key role in the school's efforts to improve the quality of teaching and overall educational experience of undergraduates, his award letter states. In addition to serving on Cornell's Mental Health Commission and other committees, Smith was also described as "a brilliant teacher and adviser whose door is always open."

Thorne, professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, drew praise for his "curricular innovations, effective classroom teaching and concern for individual students." Among his accomplishments cited were his "transformation" of the introductory physics curriculum that has resulted in improved student learning and dramatic gains in evaluations and enrollment. Thorne also developed a successful pre-med physics curriculum for Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, and is equally known as a "caring instructor who reaches out to students in need of help."