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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students create teacher awards

Published: April 29, 2011
Section: Features

At this point in the semester—as finals loom on the horizon—it is common for students to resent their professors for the work quickly piling up in front of them. Dana Schneider ’11 and Ilana Spector ’11 defied this pattern, however, and worked with the university to create Brandeis’ first-ever student-run teacher awards.

Specter explained, in an interview with The Hoot, the awards were inspired by a special experience that she and Schneider had shared in class together, on a day when the professor had no material to cover.

Spector explained, “Dana and I were present for a class led by Erika Lammare in which she conducted a meditation for her students. Following the meditation, Professor Lammare instructed us on how to make simple nutritious smoothies. She let the class experiment with ingredients she provided and even let us take the extras home. I was touched by her commitment to the well-being of her students. I remember she said, ‘Some teachers show movies on days with little material to cover, this is what I do.’ Leaving the class, Dana and I walked away talking about how nice it was to feel supported by a professor in such a genuine way. I remember saying, ‘I want to thank her in some way. Can we give her an award?’ Dana responded by saying, ‘We should do it!’”

Inspired by this experience and a host of similar ones with other fantastic professors from whom they have had the privilege to learn during their four years at Brandeis, Spector and Schneider were compelled to find a way to thank the professors who had impacted them so deeply.

They felt that the pre-existing teaching awards didn’t truly capture the sentiment of the senior class—since faculty members choose the awarded professors; instead, they worked to create awards that came from the students.

Spector and Schneider created a list of awards that the entire class of 2011 had the opportunity to vote on in categories, including: “the professor I learned the most from, the professor who inspired me most, the professor who was the most engaging, the professor who was the most fun, the professor who brought out the best in me and the best lecturer” in order to show their gratitude to the faculty and to Brandeis for the quality of their four years at the institution.

Schneider explained that “what is particularly poignant about this story is the genuine sense of gratitude that has propelled the Teacher Awards. Less than three days after the two students organized a Facebook event for the teacher awards, members of the Senior Class Gift Committee (Aaron Louison ’11 and Jenny Shapiro ’11, with Brandeis staff member Sarah Novello) adopted the campaign as part of their greater senior involvement effort, B-Seniors Week. Soon after this, Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Undergraduate Education Elaine Wong contacted the two seniors to present their teacher awards at the Class of 2011 Faculty/Staff Appreciation and Teaching Awards Reception, which is being held on May 16 during Senior Week.

Schneider was proud of the amount of cooperation that occurred between individuals all across campus; “This story is an example of the partnership between students and the administration and the respect that the groups have for one another. And it is only possible at Brandeis, only with an administration that truly has faith in its students’ ideas and is willing to work alongside students to help them achieve their goals,” she said.

Schneider and Spector have worked hard and will witness the fruits of their labor at the university’s teaching award ceremony will take place, conducted—for the first time ever—by the administration and students together.