Alex Diesl, Koichi Hagimoto, and Margaret Keane Receive the 2012 Pinanski Prize
The Pinanski Teaching Prize is awarded annually to members of the Wellesley College faculty to honor fine teaching. The Prize is meant to recognize some particular strength, some style or method or course, or some other describable event that has been especially successful.
Nominations are submitted by the College community. The selection is made by the president in consultation with the Pinanski Prize Committee. The prizes are awarded in recognition of the high quality of teaching at Wellesley. The community does not know the names of the recipients until they are announced at Commencement.
Alexander Diesl, assistant professor of mathematics; Koichi Hagimoto, assistant professor of Spanish; and Margaret M. Keane, professor of psychology received this year's Pinanski Prize. Professor Hagimoto was unable to be present because he was participating in the International Latin American Studies Association conference. President H. Kim Bottomly read the citations for each professor, quoting nominations that each had received.
Citation for Alexander Diesl
Alexander Diesl, assistant professor of mathematics, is the kind of professor who helps his students fall in love with math.
“Over the course of the semester, I found myself looking forward to going to class and using my math homework as a ‘study break’ from other classes,” said one student, who was losing interest in math, her major, before she took his class.
He also inspires math majors to become math professors. As one student said, “When my friends and I discuss the type of math professor we want to become, we say we want to become Professor Diesl.”
Indeed, this professor’s enthusiasm for math is contagious. “Sometimes I leave lectures wanting to hear more, as he always leaves us with a mathematical cliff hanger,” one student commented.
But he doesn’t just teach math, said another student, he lives math, too. “This mindset translates to students,” she said. “He truly believes in us and wants us to see math for its amazing power and beauty.”
He teaches concepts, not rules. He emphasizes the importance not of memorizing formulas, but of learning how to approach a problem—skills that will serve students well long after they have graduated from Wellesley. “Math, for me, became a way to make reasoned arguments,” said one student.
Professor Diesl has advised and mentored countless students, especially in guiding them to make decisions about their future career plans. He even organized an unofficial but highly structured GRE preparatory course for those applying to graduate school.
He is genuinely invested in helping his students learn and in making math accessible to students of all levels. “The most important things I have learned from Professor Diesl this year are not about math, but about learning and working hard,” said one student.
Or as another student said: “I felt the world come alive in a way that I never have before, because I learned how to visualize my life in the context of elegant mathematical ideas and thought.”
For enriching the lives of his students in ways they never could have imagined, Wellesley College is proud to award Alexander Diesl the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.
Citation for Koichi Hagimoto
Koichi Hagimoto is more than an engaging assistant professor of Spanish. He is a listener, who is responsive to his students’ feedback.
“He pays close attention to mid-semester evaluations in order to ensure that his students are being challenged, are interested in the material, and to get feedback on ways to improve,” said one student. “I have witnessed how the class structure changed after he read his evaluations.”
Always approachable outside of the classroom, one student recalled a particularly helpful meeting with him. “I left feeling amazed and grateful that he cared so much about my personal learning,” she said. “Professors like Professor Hagimoto are what make the Wellesley College experience so worthwhile.”
Students said how much they enjoyed learning from their teacher. But it is also clear from their comments that the learning goes both ways. During a class dinner at a local restaurant, Professor Hagimoto read from an essay he had prepared, expressing all that he had learned from his students that semester. “I thought this was excellent,” wrote one student. “We got to hear his perspective and ‘grade him’ in our heads. After all, he had been grading our essays all semester.”
Professor Hagimoto is deeply invested in the academic and personal success of his students. When one student told him that she was a finalist for the Albright Institute, he offered to help her prepare for the interview. (He prepared her so well, she said, that she was selected as an Albright Fellow.) Another student said Professor Hagimoto encouraged her when she needed it most. “When I did not believe in myself, Professor Hagimoto believed in me and gave me the push I needed to follow my dream of attending graduate school,” she said.
Additionally, student nominators commented on the uniqueness of his area of expertise—the influence of Asia in Latin America. “Wellesley should count itself lucky to have one of the few experts in this area,” said one student.
Wellesley is, indeed, fortunate to have Koichi Hagimoto among our faculty ranks, and to be able to present him with the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.
Citation for Maggie Keane
Maggie Keane, professor of psychology, has an important policy by which her students must abide: If you worry, don’t worry alone.
“A roommate, parent, friend, it didn’t matter who, but if we found ourselves in the position with no one to worry to, Professor Keane stated she was more than willing to take that place,” said one student.
Her “worry policy” is just one example of the ways in which Professor Keane cares about her students. Indeed, Professor Keane goes above and beyond to make herself available to students, even outside of regular office hours.
She also challenges them to think critically, often responding to their questions with probing questions of her own. “In my conversations with Professor Keane, we have been able to bounce back and forth in this manner until that final 'ah-ha!' moment. Let me tell you, it feels beautiful,” wrote one student.
As another student said, “She pushes each of us to not only understand our readings but to look past what is written and explore the complexity of cognitive processes as they occur in our everyday lives.”
Students agreed that Professor Keane’s love of the brain is infectious. “While there is just something fun about watching your professor giddy with enthusiasm over a memory experiment, Professor Keane’s passion for her subject also pushes her students to become thoughtful scientists,” said one student nominator.
Another student wrote, “Her enthusiasm for exploring and learning during class lectures and even during office hours are simply contagious. I don’t remember ever leaving class without feeling blown away by the materials just learned.”
But perhaps what best captures her spirit is the way she engages students with interactive and creative demonstrations. Students recalled a class in which they were instructed to stare at a spinning checkerboard pinwheel, and then look at their professor’s nose—which seemed to be growing before their very eyes—to see firsthand how different neurons in the brain responded.
For stimulating the minds of our students in so many different ways, Wellesley College is pleased to award Maggie Keane the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.