Each year, departments nominate their top teaching fellows for the Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates. GSAS chooses the five most impressive teaching fellows, who are presented with a certificate and a $1,000 prize at the spring term Bok Center Teaching Awards ceremony. The Bok Award is made possible thanks to an endowment established by David G. Nathan ’51, MD ’55, the Robert A. Stranahan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and his wife Jean Louise Friedman Nathan.
The 2020 Winners of the Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates
If you read her course evaluations, a plethora of positive words and phrases are used to describe Eliza Holmes. “Wonderful,” “truly excellent,” “amazing,” and “the best teacher I’ve had at Harvard” are a few of the many glowing reviews from Eliza’s students. “Eliza makes the study of literature come alive for our students. She teaches them how to read, write, speak, and think with greater clarity and nuance. And she inspires them to become better readers, writers, thinkers, people,” says John Stauffer, director of graduate studies and Kates Professor of English and of African and African American Studies.
A theme that stands out in Eliza’s evaluations is the high level of student engagement. Eliza fosters a respectful, inclusive learning environment for her students, engaging them in class discussions. When she taught English 165 in fall 2019, students wrote about how they looked forward to class because Eliza kept them interested—and they took away a great deal from class. One student wrote “Nothing, and I mean nothing, I say will adequately convey the amazing educator, discussion leader, advisor, and evaluator that is Eliza Holmes. I looked forward to section every single week and left each section more inspired and thrilled about this literature than when I walked in, which was already pretty jazzed…”
Moreover, Eliza shows great and genuine enthusiasm for the course material—an enthusiasm that is easily contagious. “She was so excited by the texts we read that it was impossible to not feel the same way, and she challenged us and pushed us to think further while also always commending us for good ideas. She is my favorite teacher I’ve had at Harvard,” says one of her students from a junior tutorial course in spring 2018.
Alyssa Botelho “represents what truly great teaching can and should be,” according to Elizabeth Lunbeck, professor of the history of science in residence. Alyssa has been praised for her remarkable teaching from several undergraduate students and from the faculty whose courses she has taught. She is a standout educator who has made enormous contributions to her students during her time at Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Alyssa has taught a variety of courses, ranging in topics from the opioid epidemic in historical and cultural perspectives to medical ethics and history.
Professor David Jones praises Alyssa as a teaching fellow who has received “superlative” evaluations from her students. Her commitment, rigor, and generosity have earned her a special place in the hearts of those who have been fortunate enough to work with her. It is evident that Alyssa is dedicated to helping students understand material by engaging in effective discussions and setting aside extra time to explain complicated subjects. “Alyssa has an amazing ability to engage students with difficult/dense subject matter without overwhelming us and still bring us to a better, more complex understanding,” one student wrote. Another student said, “I want to draw special attention to how helpful she is in teaching core skills that too often are not addressed explicitly, such as how to construct historical arguments in academic writing.” Beyond her tactical explanations, her accessibility and the feedback she offers her students are what help set them up for academic success.
Enthusiasm and diligence to deliver exceptional teaching is what makes Alyssa a spectacular addition to the Department of the History of Science. Professors in the department appreciate her effectiveness as a collaborator. Alyssa has assisted them in steps of design, teaching, and assessment of courses. She is committed to structuring each class section in a way that will offer the most to her students. Her drive to reach new goals and educate many is what sets her apart from the rest. Her students’ remarks testify to how unusually skilled she is—even with the minutiae of being a good teacher. One student wrote, “She is able to understand what you are saying (even when you can’t), and helps you parse through your ideas.” Her colleagues are confident Alyssa has a bright future ahead of her. She is a gifted scholar on her way to pursuing an accomplished career as a physician-educator.
Patrick Lopatto began his teaching journey in a first semester calculus class—since then, he has set a standard for excellence as a teaching fellow in the mathematics department. Patrick has always gone above and beyond with his work as a teacher, mentor, and leader. Professor Robin Gottlieb asserts that Patrick “stands out in [the] department for his passionate engagement with teaching and in his eagerness to engage with pedagogy in multiple ways.”
Patrick has an outstanding track-record of dedicated, scientifically driven, self-reflective, and successful teaching. His strong connections with students are recognized by students and faculty alike. Patrick received uniformly positive evaluations from students, with many of them noting his high enthusiasm and dedication to student learning and success. One student wrote, “Patrick is simply the best. He truly cares about each and every student. He spent over 10 hours helping me study for the final over Thanksgiving break. I wish every TF were as dedicated and caring as Patrick.”
Not only do students observe that Patrick ensures no student feels left behind in his classes, but they believe that Patrick is truly invested in their success. He introduced topics that resonated with the students’ interests and he was attentive to the students’ needs. Professor Gottlieb says “While a team member in that course (and a first-time teacher) Patrick developed a statistical model that took students’ precalculus gateway scores as predictors for course success. He and one of the preceptors used this model to deploy better advising for students in Math 1a.”
Mariela Petkova has earned an outstanding teaching record for her noteworthy performance as a teaching fellow in LS50, a full-year Integrated Science double course. She excelled at teaching the exceptionally demanding course, which combines biology, chemistry, computing, math, and physics. Forming a bond with her students through lectures and labs has shaped the quality of the curriculum she had taught, leaving a rewarding impact on the academic lives of her students. Mariela has been described as the “secret ingredient that makes it possible for a course to be as demanding yet as well-liked as LS50,” says Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Andrew Murray. Being acknowledged as a key educator in a rigorous field speaks volumes about the type of teacher Mariela truly is. Mariela is a physicist dedicated to developing novel ways for students to gain excitement from learning new concepts. It is extraordinary how a course that has often been described as “the hardest challenge” of many students’ academic lives, has transformed into a gratifying experience. Mariela is praised for consistently being available outside of class and delivering thorough explanations when helping a student with an assignment. One student wrote, “Mariela is the perfect TF for LS50, as she actually made it so much easier and was extremely helpful and willing to help.
The excellence of Mariella’s handling of LS50 is unsurpassed. Professor Murray says that Mariela is by far one of “the most effective teaching fellows” he has seen in 30 years of teaching undergraduates, graduate students, and medical students. Mariela is inspired by intelligence and invests an immense amount of effort and kindness in every section she teaches. One student described her as, “Wonderful, phenomenal, and approachable.” Another student wrote, “She was approachable and drew very detailed diagrams that helped better explain lecture topics.” A common theme about Mariela is that, despite the obscurities that arise in such subject matter, she always made her students feel comfortable and helped combat their confusion, no matter what it took.
Professor Murray acknowledges that the success of this new and challenging course was made possible thanks to Mariela’s efforts.
An extraordinary teacher, Cresa Pugh is committed to teaching with innovation and excellence. Cresa’s skills as an instructor were first put to the test in her third graduate year when she was given her first teaching assignment—a course called “Refugees in Global Perspective”—a difficult class to teach due to the sensitive and violent nature of its content. Moreover, the enrollment often comprises international, first-generation students who have had personal experiences as refugees. It did not get any less daunting for Cresa when 44 students enrolled in the course, but not only did she accept the challenge, she also taught two mammoth sections of the course with 22 students each. “Yet despite the over-large classes, the difficult topics, the ‘hot moments’ she encountered, and the difficulties often faced by members of minoritized racial groups, Cresa always earns a 4.8 or higher on her teaching evaluations,” says Jocelyn S. Viterna, professor of sociology and director of undergraduate studies in sociology.
It is one of Cresa’s teaching priorities to make sure all her students feel comfortable participating in class. “She is a natural-born communicator who knows how to mobilize her intelligence and charisma to give students memorable experiences that stay with them for life,” says Dr. Danilo Mandic. Cresa has always found a way to decrease stress and motivate students to engage in discussions. One of her students says, “She made the class environment so relaxed and low-stress. As a shy person, even I felt comfortable speaking up, especially toward the end of the semester.” Cresa’s caring nature never goes unnoticed by her students and the faculty she’s worked with.
As Professor Viterna puts it, “Cresa has a true talent for converting a section into a community.” Cresa is credited as having a remarkable ability to skillfully teach challenging course topics while simultaneously encouraging inventiveness and fun in the classroom. One student wrote, “Cresa was an incredibly fun section leader, making sure that we covered the concepts but also finding creative ways to keep things light even when we were going over some dense material.”
Cresa’s teaching style has had an unparalleled effect on her students, as she diligently prepared each for academic success. She’s a talented educator who is dedicated to her craft. The Department of Sociology “cannot imagine a worthier candidate” for this award, Professor Viterna writes.