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Jacob Suissa: 2021 Derek C. Bok Award Citation

Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates

When learning moved online during spring 2020, teaching fellow Jacob Suissa partnered with Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany Donald Pfister to redesign the course Biology of Fungi and enable students to create their own mycology labs at home.

“As with all of us moving to online instruction, I went into the venture with some trepidation,” Pfister says. “After redesigning the course, I reviewed everything with Jacob. Together we evaluated the labs to determine what would work and what was likely to be a failure and should be eliminated. Important to us both was to establish personal contacts with our students. We wanted to be able to emulate a classroom experience via Zoom, to have good discussions, and to get to know the students. I could not have hoped for a more personable and dedicated partner in this venture.”

Suissa, a PhD candidate in organismic and evolutionary biology, took on management of the laboratory sessions, preparing at-home lab and mushroom growing kits and organizing all the materials for the course’s two student groups. With participants located throughout the world, Suissa devoted a day to lab meetings, holding office hours before and after in order to accommodate those in different time zones. “One of the goals was to help the students appreciate fungi wherever they happened to be,” says Pfister. “Jacob was able to share his own experience living in Hawaii with a student located there. Or to share what he had found on a weekend hike to encourage others to get out and look. He was able to direct students to aspects of fungal biology that were specific to their area.”

In a normal year, the class would participate in a “fungus fair” hosted by the Harvard Museum of Science and Culture. With the museum closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event went online, and students were asked to record short videos on a topic of their choosing. Suissa worked with course participants at a distance, enabling them to make successful presentations. “At the fair, Jacob assisted in managing questions from the public and most of all helped to make sure that none of the students were left in the lurch,” Pfister says. “I recently learned that the videos were being used by a class at Cornell to inspire their own projects. Jacob helped to make this venture run smoothly.”

The positive impact Suissa had on his students extended well beyond the classroom. “We had two students who were having difficulty with course content and with life away from the classroom,” says Pfister. “Jacob was kind and understanding with them, directed them to me when appropriate but gave them the attention that they needed to do well in difficult times. In Jacob, the students had an advocate whose mission was to see that they succeeded.”

Jacob Suissa, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is pleased to present you with the Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates. Congratulations!

Photo by Tony Rinaldo

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