Professors Honored with the Pinanski Teaching Prize

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The Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize is awarded annually to honor members of the Wellesley College faculty who have demonstrated excellence as teachers. The prize recognizes a particular strength, method, or technique that has been especially successful. Nominations are submitted by the College community, and the final selection is made by the president in consultation with the Pinanski Prize Committee.

This year, six awardees were brought on stage during Wellesley’s hybrid commencement exercises on June 4. The 2020 recipients—Angela Bahns, associate professor of psychology, Amy Banzaert, lecturer in engineering and director of engineering studies, and Daniela Rivera, Barbara Morris Caspersen Associate Professor of Humanities and associate professor of art, who were recognized virtually last year—joined the 2021 recipients: Selwyn R. Cudjoe, professor of Africana studies, Alice Friedman, Grace Slack McNeil Professor of American Art and professor of art, and Rebecca Belisle, assistant professor of physics. Below are excerpts from the 2021 award citations.

Selwyn R. Cudjoe, professor of Africana studies

​During his more than three decades at Wellesley, Professor Selwyn Cudjoe has left an indelible impression on students. He is known as an honest, encouraging, and exacting teacher who pushes students to question their biases and assumptions. Students admire his love for the history and culture of the people of the African diaspora, his passion for the authors he teaches, and his use of the Socratic method.

“I remember taking a seminar with Professor Cudjoe my junior year and thinking to myself, ‘This is the epitome of a liberal arts education,’” says one student. “In Professor Cudjoe’s class,” says another, “students are always in conversation with him, with each other, with the authors and texts we are studying, and with the world at large.”

Professor Cudjoe seeks to empower his students and create a space of belonging in which they can grow as people and scholars. “Professor Cudjoe’s Black Women Writers class changed my life,” says one student. “It gave me the opportunity to explore my own identity as a Black queer woman by reading about the Black women who have come before me.”

Professor Cudjoe’s colleagues also hold him in high esteem. “He is both a scholar and an activist, a champion and an underdog, a mentor and a friend,” says one faculty member.

“Professor Cudjoe has written transformative and field-changing texts in literature,” says another. “But equally important, he has been a champion for his students. Year after year, alumnae return to see their beloved professor. I saw this firsthand at the Ethos 50th anniversary, where his very presence brought past students to tears speaking about the impact he had on the trajectory of their careers and personal lives.”

For his tireless dedication to the Wellesley community, for showing students the interdependence of academic disciplines and the elements of lived experience that help shape our world, and for awakening in students an abiding love for Africana studies, it is an honor to present Selwyn Cudjoe with the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.

Alice Friedman, Grace Slack McNeil Professor of American Art and professor of art

Students describe Professor Alice Friedman as a “once-in-a-lifetime professor.” For over 40 years, she has been a renowned presence in the department of art and the architecture program, shaping the education and lives of Wellesley students and, through that work, the practice of architecture and the study of architectural history.

“Whenever I am asked by an underclass student, ‘Who do I have to take a class with before I graduate?’ Professor Friedman is the first to come to mind,” says one student.

Professor Friedman teaches not only the findings of her own groundbreaking feminist scholarship in architectural history, but the modes and methods of critical inquiry that guide her research. “Professor Friedman’s approach embodies the ideal of integrating teaching and research [that’s] at the heart of a liberal arts education,” says one colleague. “She pushes her students to think better, see better, describe better, and to challenge themselves and one another, especially about how gender and sexuality have shaped the history of architecture, and about who has been left out of that history.”

Students and colleagues admire the ways in which Professor Friedman’s research and scholarship have made her field more inclusive. “Professor Friedman’s work as a teacher and scholar is part of the phenomenal transformation of the humanities in the last half-century,” says one of her colleagues. “She was among those in the vanguard of scholars who reshaped humanistic education by foregrounding issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality.”

For the compassion she shows each of her students, her dedicated service to the College, and her pathbreaking contributions to the practice of architecture and the study of architectural history, it is an honor to present Alice Friedman with the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.

Rebecca Belisle, assistant professor of physics

Professor Rebeca Belisle is an inspired teacher known for her energy and empathy, and for her ability to explain complex scientific topics. “Professor Belisle is the kind of professor that I had hoped to encounter when I decided to study at a liberal arts college,” says one student. “She is an invaluable mentor,” says another.

Students praise her for incorporating a wide variety of materials in her teaching, including videos and websites she designs herself. “Professor Belisle’s enthusiasm and love for physics put me at ease as a non-physics major, while her clear lecturing, creative use of visuals, and innovative analogies helped me to understand content that had previously eluded me,” says one student. She also asks her students to help establish expectations for each course. “The first day of class, we volunteered our thoughts and wrote on the whiteboard how we wanted our classroom environment to be for the next seven weeks,” one student says. “Highlights included: ‘No question is too small,’ ‘Assume the best in people,’ and ‘We are here to support each other.’”

Professor Belisle is a committed mentor with a particular focus on equity and inclusivity, and she always makes time for students who don’t have a strong background in the sciences. “Even in a virtual environment, Professor Belisle created an environment that felt safe to make mistakes, ask questions, and learn physics that applies to the real world,” said one student.

For cultivating an inclusive environment in the classroom and the lab, for making every effort to help her students succeed, and for her emphasis on learning as a process and practice, it is an honor to present Rebecca Belisle with the Anna and Samuel Pinanski Teaching Prize.