Every year, the Graduate School and Yale College select a small number of Prize Teaching Fellows (PTFs) in recognition of their extraordinary competence, dedication, and enthusiasm in the classroom. PTFs are chosen from among those nominated by their undergraduate students and the faculty members they assist.
This year, Alice Baumgartner (History), Alex Engler (Engineering and Applied Science), Kyle Luh (Mathematics), Daniel Martin (Chemistry), and Miranda Sachs (History) were honored as PTFs at a dinner on November 1.
“Learning how to teach is integral to graduate training at Yale,” says Lynn Cooley, dean of GSAS. “Good scholarship and research are refined and improved through the act of teaching.” Teaching requirements vary by department and program, but typically involve a time commitment of ten to twenty hours per week for two to four semesters out of the five or six years most students spend at Yale to complete their PhD degrees.
Baumgartner’s research focuses on American slaves who escaped to Mexico during the 19th century. Her Louis Pelzer Award–winning article, “The Line of Positive Safety: Borders and Boundaries in the Rio Grande Valley, 1848–1880,” was published in the Journal of American History. Baumgartner served as a TF for “Civil War and Reconstruction,” taught by David Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of American History; and for “The American West,” taught by John Mack Faragher, the Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus of History. Baumgartner says, “Teaching has been integral to my research, because history is a collaborative process. The paper trail of the past is too long and wide for a single historian to synthesize alone, and so teaching is an opportunity for me to learn with and from my students.”
Engler conducts research in the lab of Laura Niklason, the Nicholas Greene Professor of Anesthesiology and professor of biomedical engineering, where he studies which components of pulmonary physiology are the most crucial to mimic in vitro in order to gain the most functionality from engineered lung tissue. He served as a TF for “Physiological Systems,” taught by Mark Saltzman, the Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of chemical engineering, and for Niklason’s “Tissue Engineering.” He is currently a TF for “Physiological Systems,” this time with Professor Stuart Campbell. Last summer, he worked with Professors Saltzman and Campbell to develop new teaching tools for the course, funded through a Rozenkranz Grant for pedagogical advancement. He says, “Figuring out the best and most effective ways to connect with my students has certainly made me a more effective and focused researcher, and it’s an essential addition to my work here.”
Luh is currently working on random matrices, random graphs, and randomized algorithms under the guidance of Van Vu, the Percey F. Smith Professor of Mathematics and professor of statistics. Luh served as a lecturer for “Calculus of Functions of One Variable” under the guidance of James Rolf and has been a TF for additional math courses during his time at Yale. Luh especially enjoys fielding tough questions from his students, as they “usually lead to interesting tangents,” he says. Luh will be a Part Time Acting Instructor in the spring of 2017 for Math 115 (Single Variable Calculus II).
Daniel Martin studies inorganic chemistry under the mentorship of professor James Mayer, the Charlotte Fitch Roberts Professor of Chemistry. Martin, a second-year student, plans to study the electrocatalytic O2 reduction reaction, a topic that has applications to alternative energy. He has served as a TF for “General Chemistry 1” and “General Chemistry 2” taught by Patrick Holland and Jonathan Parr. He’ll be teaching GenChem 2 again this spring. Martin said his students have helped him become a better instructor, and he enjoys seeing them make connections between their own day-to-day experiences and fundamental chemistry.
Sachs’s dissertation, “Child’s Work: The Transformation of Childhood in Third Republic Paris,” examines how changing conceptions of childhood in the late 19th and early 20th centuries redefined the experience and training of young people for the workforce. She was TF for “France, 1789-1871,” taught by John Merriman, the Charles Seymour Professor of History, as well as for “Europe in the Age of Total War,” “Eastern Europe to 1914,” and “France since 1871.” She also taught her own seminar, “Childhood and Adolescence in the 20th Century,” for Yale Summer Sessions. Sachs credits the professors she has assisted for showing her how to “weave together a story and keep students enthralled” during their lectures. “Teaching is thrilling, challenging, exhausting, and invigorating all at once,” she says.