Pinanski Prize Winners

Orit Shaer, Lisa Rodensky, and Tracy Gleason in academic robes on stage

Professors Orit Shaer, Lisa Rodensky, and Tracy Gleason receive the 2013 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.

Orit Shaer

Students who take Orit Shaer’s computer science classes learn much more than what the course descriptions promise. Students learn how to learn. They learn to never stop asking questions. And they learn that you should never shy away from dreaming big.

Said one student nominator, “With her guidance I have been able to grow into a better thinker, problem solver, and leader, giving me the skills I need to excel after Wellesley.”

Another student wrote, “I took away from her class the idea that whenever I create a product, I need to think about the bigger picture: What is its purpose and how can I make it better?”

Students describe Orit Shaer, the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Computer Science, as a “phenomenal professor,” one who does “revolutionary things in the classroom” and is “always extremely dedicated to her students.”

She serves as a mentor and role model to many budding computer scientists as well as other Wellesley students in the STEM fields. “Before meeting Orit, I had very little direction in my life,” said one student. “I had only a vague idea what I wanted to do after college, and I had no idea how to get there. She has helped me clarify where my passions lie.”

Another student said, “Orit truly cares about my future, and she wants what is best for me.”

Professor Shaer encourages her students to be open to new ideas and opportunities, whether by participating in national student design competitions, or through research in her lab—the kind of research that is usually reserved for graduate-level students. One student wrote, “Orit always respects, appreciates, and seriously considers our opinions and ideas even though we are only undergraduate researchers. This really makes me feel like my contributions matter.”

Added another student, “It is not Orit’s dedication to creating next-generation interfaces that makes her such a wonderful professor. It is her dedication to creating the next generation of amazing Wellesley graduates.”

For these many reasons, Orit Shaer is most deserving of the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.

Lisa Rodensky

Lisa Rodensky is the kind of English professor that every student should have at least once.

Wrote one student nominator, “she reminded me why I was at Wellesley. It’s as simple as that.”

Lisa Rodensky, the Barbara Morris Caspersen Associate Professor in the Humanities and Associate Professor of English, inspires her students to be better writers, readers, thinkers, and learners. “Her precision and thoughtfulness in grading motivates me to work even harder on my assignments,” said one student, adding that she wished she had the opportunity to write more papers in this professor’s classes.

Professor Rodensky motivates her students to participate in engaging class discussions, even if they aren’t feeling up to the task on a given day. As one student who was having a difficult time in class explained, “I would come to class fully expecting to sit in the back and not say a word, and every day she would manage to bring me into the conversation.”

“She asks you to rise to the challenge and to not give up,” said one student, “but also to be reasonable about what you are trying to do, to realize that sometimes you just need to turn in an essay because it’s due and get on with your life.”

Students look forward to participating in Professor Rodensky’s classes because she makes them so enjoyable. “Lisa is the type of teacher whose witty comments you can’t help but take down in the margin of your notes,” said one student. “When [my friends and I] were studying for our final, we started compiling all of her wonderful quotes to make studying pass more pleasantly.”

Another student said, “Her classes were for me, truly the nourishment for my mind and body.”

Students also appreciate that Professor Rodensky, a Wellesley woman herself, returned to her alma mater to, as one student nominator wrote, “devote herself to our education, with verve and passion.”

For dedicating herself to teaching in these ways, Wellesley College is pleased to award to Lisa Rodensky the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.

Tracy Gleason

Tracy Gleason has an unconventional method to help her students prepare for their midterm exams.

In her Developmental Psychology course, rather than guiding students through a standard overview of the material covered, she invites several young children and their mothers to class to allow students to test their knowledge of developmental milestones. Wrote one student nominator, “[it] captured what Professor Gleason brought to every class session—a unique way of connecting the textbook material with our lives and experiences.”

Tracy Gleason, the Whitehead Associate Professor of Critical Thought and Associate Professor of Psychology, has a way of motivating her students to think beyond the textbook and classroom. “She not only wants to help students learn about new areas,” said another student, “she wants to connect these ideas to their lives and change their perspectives on the way they see the world.”

As one nominator explained, “Professor Gleason made sure that we never forgot the big picture and why the research matters. From conquering prejudice to reducing social disconnection, she inspired our class to find the greater meaning in our coursework and the potential for our background in psychology to solve larger social problems.”

Students described Professor Gleason as funny, engaging, creative, and passionate about the subject she teaches. She also has a way of bringing out the best in all of her students. “I am a natural introvert and speaking in class is often hard for me,” wrote one student. “Professor Gleason helped me find my voice and encouraged me to share my ideas with others.”

Committed not only to teaching, but to developing her students as thinkers, writers, and as researchers, this professor sets high standards for students, while also being supportive of them. The combination empowers students. “In her Research Methods course… she treated our projects as legitimate research rather than just perfunctory class projects, which changed our perspectives of our work as well.” 

For inspiring students to reach their highest potential, Wellesley College is proud to award to Tracy Gleason the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.