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New Weiss fellows and teaching award recipients honored

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Melissa Osgood
Weiss Fellowships ceremony
Jason Koski/University Photography
From left, James Blankenship, Walker White, Sara Warner, Steven Strogatz, Jane Mendle, Interim President Hunter Rawlings, Andrea Simitch and Michael Van Amburgh Feb. 9 in the Groos Family Atrium in Klarman Hall.

Seven faculty members were recognized Feb. 9 for excellent teaching of undergraduate students at Cornell.

Andrea Simitch, associate professor of architecture; Steven Strogatz, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics; and Michael Van Amburgh, professor of animal science, are the newest recipients of Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowships, given by the Cornell Board of Trustees.

In addition, four faculty members were honored in two new Weiss teaching award categories established in 2016.

Jane Mendle, associate professor of human development, and Sara Warner, associate professor of performing and media arts, are Stephen H. Weiss Junior Fellows. James Blankenship, senior lecturer in molecular biology and genetics, and Walker White, senior lecturer in computer science, are Stephen H. Weiss Provost’s Teaching Fellows. The universitywide awards each have a term of five years.

The fellowship winners were announced by Interim President Hunter Rawlings at a recognition event in the Groos Family Atrium in Klarman Hall.

Established in 1992, the Weiss Presidential Fellowship was conceived by the late Stephen H. Weiss ’57, chairman emeritus of the board of trustees, to recognize tenured Cornell faculty members for the teaching and mentoring of undergraduates. Two or three recipients are named each year; in addition to a respected scholarly career, the recipients have sustained records of effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching and contributions to undergraduate education.

Nominations sought
Nominations for the 2017 Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowships are due March 17. For complete details, see the nomination guidelines online.

The Junior Fellows Award is given to two recently tenured associate professors each year for excellence in teaching and notable scholarship. Two annual Provost’s Teaching Fellowships awards are given to non-tenure track faculty with a commitment to teaching; lecturers, senior lecturers, professor of practice, clinical professors, research associates and senior research associates are eligible.

Andrea Simitch, B.Arch. ’79, was cited by the selection committee for her one-on-one work with students in a rigorous field, teaching them to think for themselves and to understand the fundamentals of architecture. Students often describe her approach as “tough love” but also praise her empathy and mentorship. Her colleagues also praised her work, including co-authorship (with associate professor and her partner in practice, Val Warke) of a 2014 textbook, “The Language of Architecture: 26 Principles Every Architect Should Know.”

Rawlings, Simitch, Mendle and Van Amburgh
Jason Koski/University Photography
Hunter Rawlings speaks with Jane Mendle, Andrea Simitch and Michael Van Amburgh.

Simitch teaches courses in architectural design, architectural representation and furniture design, and has taught for Cornell in international venues from Europe to Central and South America. She has been awarded her department’s Martín Domínguez Award for Distinguished Teaching twice, and the Merrill Presidential Scholars Program outstanding educator certificate three times.

She directed Cornell’s B.Arch. program from 2011-14, was director of undergraduate studies in architecture in 2007-08, and served as associate dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning in 2002-03. Her work as an architect includes Daño’s Heuriger, a restaurant overlooking Seneca Lake. Student work from the furniture design course (taught in collaboration with Roberto Bertoia and Milton Curry) has been exhibited at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.

Steve Strogatz has taught mathematics and applied mathematics at Cornell since 1994. His nomination cited his innovative teaching methods in an impressively wide range of courses, and student praise for his teaching as “masterful,” “infectious” and “funny,” and for his individual attention.

Colleagues noted his many teaching awards and mentorship of others seeking to improve their teaching, and his participation in Cornell’s Summer Mathematics Institute for women and minority undergraduates.

Strogatz is well-known for his outreach work, helping people to understand and enjoy mathematics through public and media appearances, a New York Times column on the subject and three books: “Sync,” “The Calculus of Friendship” and “The Joy of x.”


Jason Koski/University Photography
Michael Van Amburgh at the Klarman Hall ceremony.

His broad research interests have included mathematical biology; the small-world phenomenon (“six degrees of separation”) in social networks; structural balance in social systems; and nonlinear dynamics and chaos in physics, engineering and biology.

Michael Van Amburgh was cited for his passion for his subject and engaging and interactive lectures that have made his animal science courses popular beyond his department and college; for his concern for students, those he advises and those he supervises in his laboratory; and his willingness to meet with incoming students before they enter Cornell.

Van Amburgh has guided students as adviser of the Dairy Science Club, and he has helped many undergraduates pursue internships, careers and study abroad.

He received the Donald C. Burgett Distinguished Advisor Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2012.

Jane Mendle is a New York state-licensed clinical psychologist who joined the human development faculty in 2011. She directs the Adolescent Transitions Lab, and her research in adolescent psychology includes a focus on how aspects of puberty relate to psychological well-being. She was recommended by the selection committee for her passion for her subject and for teaching, her interactive lectures and creative assignments. Her students describe her as enthusiastic and approachable, and noted her dedication to advising and devoting time to students needing extra help. Colleagues also praised her service on her department’s undergraduate education committee.

Mendle’s research has been profiled by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC, The Economist, USA Today, Newsweek and other media outlets. She has awards from the Society of Research on Adolescence, the Behavior Genetics Association and the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, and was named a rising star by the Association for Psychological Science.

Sara Warner joined Cornell as a visiting assistant professor of theater in 2004. For the Weiss award nomination, her colleagues cited her for creating new and exciting multidisciplinary courses, and for her role in re-establishing the theater major as her department transitioned in name and scope from theater, film and dance to performing and media arts.

The selection committed also noted her students’ appreciation for her passionate and engaging teaching; and for helping them find internships and providing tutoring and personal support.

In addition to teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in performing and media arts, Warner is a core member of the feminist, gender and sexuality studies and LGBT studies programs, and has affiliations in American studies and the history of art and visual studies. She has taught in the Cornell Prison Education and Telluride programs, and is a widely published scholar of dramatic literature, performance studies, and feminist and queer theory. Among her professional activities, she serves on the executive board of the Cherry Artspace in Ithaca.

James Blankenship ’79, M.S. ’92, is director of undergraduate studies in biochemistry and in molecular and cell biology. He began his career as a Cornell undergraduate teaching assistant and joined the instructional staff in 1981.

His Weiss award nomination characterizes him as innovative, adept at using active learning strategies, and skilled at accommodating students having different learning styles, disabilities and backgrounds.

Walker White
Jason Koski/University Photography
Walker White at the ceremony.

His colleagues said he advises an unusually large number of undergraduates and often mentors new faculty members.

For his popular individualized instruction courses in biochemistry, he has trained “a small army” of undergraduate teaching assistants, “most of whom have taken the class, performed at a very high level, and realized their passion for the subject,” he says on his faculty page.

Walker White teaches in the Department of Computer Science, directs the Game Design Initiative at Cornell and is responsible for the undergraduate minor in game design, comprising several classes spread across multiple departments. He teaches two of its core courses, in game design and architecture.

The selection committee cited his skill in managing a team of TAs to work well together and give all students one-on-one attention. Students describe White’s teaching as masterful, with clear, concise and interesting lectures; and colleagues praised his leadership in the Game Design Initiative, in outreach to local schools, and in collaboration with other faculty to incorporate communication instruction requiring students to “write and speak while they design and code.”


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