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Lindback and Provost's Awards—Sketches of the 2009 Winners
April 21, 2009, Volume 55, No. 30

Since 1961, Lindback  Awards—for members of the standing faculty—have been a springtime tradition at Penn.
The Provost’s Awards—for full- and part-time associated  faculty and academic support staff—have also been given in conjunction with the Lindbacks since 1988. AnotherUniversity-wide award to honor faculty who teach and mentor doctoral students was begun in 2003 for members of the standing or associated faculty in any school offering the PhD. Below are profiles and excerpts from colleagues’ and students’ letters of recommendation for this year’s winners. 

Teaching Award Reception: April 27

All members of the University community are cordially invited to
a reception honoring the recipients of the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback
Foundation Awards for Distinguished Teaching and
the Provost’s Awards for Teaching Excellence by Non-Standing Faculty
as well as the Provost’s Awards for Distinguished PhD Teaching and Mentoring
Monday, April 27 at 5 p.m.
Hall of Flags, Houston Hall

Lindback Awards
Non-Health Schools
Health Schools
Provost's Awards

Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Awards at the
University of Pennsylvania: Awarded for Distinguished Teaching

The Lindback Awards for Distinguished Teaching at the University of Pennsylvania were established in 1961 with the help of the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation. Christian Lindback was president and principal of Abbotts Dairies, Inc. and a trustee of Bucknell University. The Foundation established Lindback Awards for Distinguished Teaching at colleges and universities throughout the Abbotts Dairies, Inc.’s service area in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

See www.archives.upenn.edu/people/notables/awards/lindback.html for the previous recipients.

Lindback Awards–Non-Health Schools

Charles Bernstein, SAS


Charles Bernstein, Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature, came to Penn in 2003. A world-renowned poet, essayist, librettist, champion of experimental writing, and author of more than 40 books, he is, in the words of his department’s nomination letter, “a superb mentor of young people in their quest for newness and innovation.” Aided by cutting-edge teaching strategies and web-based tools, he creates “life-altering, sublime experiences,” in one student’s words, that forge “a community of people coming together to think together.”  In classes that are “organic, fluid, interconnected, and steered ever so slightly by a gentle helmsman,” he encourages students to explore their ideas in in-depth discussions—in which “sometimes we spent an hour and a half on a single phrase, or a single word, of a poem”—while inspiring them with his own example of rigorous preparation and textual exploration. He is, in a colleague’s words, “more generous with his students…than any other teacher…whom I’ve seen during my 28 years in the classroom.” His class, reports a Wharton undergraduate, was “the only course I’ve ever attended in which the students…wanted to continue the class activities on into the summer.  They were actually sad to leave.”



Antonio Merlo, SAS


Antonio Merlo, Lawrence R. Klein Professor of Economics, came to Penn in 2000.  Director of the Penn Institute for Economic Research, he specializes in the connections between economics and politics. Undergraduates praise his ability to help them see “how economics could be applied to areas that would not be readily obvious” and to understand abstract economic and mathematical concepts through real world-examples and hands-on projects. For example, as part of his effort to demonstrate that “economics is much more than maximizing utility functions,” his students recently conducted research into the presidential primaries, in which they analyzed exit poll data on voting and demographics.  Students unanimously praise his devotion to helping them outside class, his ability to make each class a cohesive part of a larger whole, and his clarity and organization: most of his students, reports one of his teaching assistants, “find that notes taken in class are clearer than textbooks.”



Rogers Smith, SAS


Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, came to Penn in 2001. An authority on American politics and the Constitution, he is renowned for the individual care and interest that he devotes to each student, in “a demanding, yet supportive, style that pushes students to engage deeply.” Graduate and undergraduate students alike praise his humor, careful attention, and incisive advice, even for students not working in his areas of expertise, and his patient efforts to help students “develop their own voices, and to pursue and clarify their own ideals.” He has a “reputation for often asking the toughest and most insightful questions,” and yet a colleague notes that his “most remarkable pedagogical gift may be his demonstrated talent for sparking a renewed determination to succeed among those who…are struggling with their work.” His engagement “extends well beyond college itself”—including his establishment of Penn’s Program on Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism—and reflects through his own example what one student reports as “the best advice I have received thus far in my graduate career: do what you love.”



Mark Yim, SEAS


Mark Yim, Associate Professor and Gabel Family Term Junior Professor of Mechanical Engineering, began teaching at Penn in 2004, after more than a decade as a leading robotics researcher and engineer. “Maybe because he came to teaching later than most,” speculates a colleague, “he developed a deeper appreciation for what outstanding teaching really is.” He has been instrumental in reorienting Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics around a lab-based “Practice Integrated Curriculum” designed, in his words, “not only to teach the students concepts and skills, but develop an engineering way of thinking.” As part of this effort, he pioneered a new master’s program in Integrated Product Design, in which students work in partnership with Wharton and PennDesign, while also serving as Faculty Director (and previously Associate Director) of Weiss Tech House. “Rather than using traditional methods of teaching and evaluating students,” one undergraduate writes, “he experiments with methods that engage students creatively.” As one colleague sums up the views of students and colleagues, “he seamlessly integrates his own research, his classroom instruction, his advising, and his involvement in the Weiss Tech House and the IPD Program to truly, deeply teach his students.”



Lindback Awards–Health Schools

Jane Barnsteiner, Nursing


Jane Barnsteiner, Professor of Pediatric Nursing (Clinician Educator) in the School of Nursing, came to Penn in 1984. A pioneer in evidence-based nursing practice, she has motivated generations of nursing students to, in the words of one alumna, “take risks, be creative, push the limits, and become a leader.” She has “established a culture of evidence-based practice …that was felt not only by the staff but by every nursing student,” reports a colleague; and an alumna echoes that “she created systemic change regarding graduate education for pediatric critical care nurses, set standards for the integration of patient safety content in the nursing curricula, and changed the lives of students as they learned from her.” Students appreciate that “she sets high standards but supports development of the skills to achieve those standards,” including extensive time mentoring and inspiring them with her high ideals for health care quality, patient care, and patient safety. “Eighteen years after I completed my program,” reports an alumna who is now a leader in the field, “I can still periodically hear Dr. Barnsteiner’s voice in my head as I am puzzling over how to solve a complex problem or approach a delicate situation.” 



Louis Bell, Medicine


Louis Bell, Professor of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Chief of General Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, came to Penn in 1985.   Since then, he has become “legendary among the medical student community for his devotion to teaching and his vast knowledge base,” which spans infectious diseases, emergency medicine, and general pediatrics. Colleagues and students praise him as “the consummate clinician and educator” whose skills at teaching and mentoring are matched only by his abilities at patient care, division development, and state-of-the-art research. “No matter what level of experience,” notes a colleague, “we all look to Dr. Bell…to provide insight into difficult cases or offer his opinion on a recently published study.” At the same time, reports another colleague, “Dr. Bell’s patients and their families adore him. … He can get to the root of a parent’s concern more quickly and with more efficiency and ease than any physician I have ever seen.” His students appreciate this same level of care and attention, especially his ability to advise and support them while giving them the autonomy to make their own decisions. “Whether from a seat in an auditorium or chair across from his desk,” sums up a section chief at CHOP, “I have learned more from Dr. Bell than perhaps any of my other teachers—about science, about pediatrics, and about caring for fellow human beings.”


Horace DeLisser, Medicine

Horace DeLisser, Associate Professor of Medicine and Assistant Dean in the School of Medicine, came to Penn in 1991. A specialist in tumor angiogenesis, a widely admired teacher, an advocate for the recruitment and mentoring of physicians from underrepresented groups, he has made his mark above all as a bioethicist who helps students and colleagues confront profound issues of patient care, especially for patients at the end of their lives. His greatest skill, notes a student, “is teaching his team how to be a doctor when things are truly hard.  When there’s a language barrier, or a cultural misunderstanding, or when patients are dying, he leads his team by teaching us to be engaged.”  Using both discussions and role-modeling exercises, he “constantly challenged us students to think outside the box about complex ethical conundrums relating to clinical practice” as he “acknowledges the barriers between physicians and patients but refuses to idly accept them.” As a result, for many of the students who work with him, “few have had such a lasting effect on how I actually practice medicine day to day.”


Carolyn Gibson, Dental Medicine


Carolyn Gibson, Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology in the School of Dental Medicine, came to Penn in 1986. “More than just another professor at this school,” in the words of a student government leader, she is—as course director of Histology and Embryology—one of the first faculty members encountered by new students, who praise not only her “extremely well-structured, clear, and informative” classes but also her devotion to helping them outside class.  She “seems to always be thinking of the student in the context of her own research,” notes one student, even as that research “has been revolutionizing the field of dental medicine for many years.” She has taken pains to incorporate student suggestions into curriculum revisions and advocate for students who, in the words of a colleague, may be “having difficulty transitioning to a professional school from undergraduate studies.” In the process, she provides a model of a professor who can combine pathbreaking research with devotion to teaching, advising, and helping students, becoming the “ambassador to the dental school and the university as a whole” for generations of dental students.


Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence by Non-Standing Faculty

In October of 1987, the Office of the Provost announced the establishment of two additional Penn teaching awards—one in a Health School and one in a Non-Health School—to be given annually in recognition of distinguished teaching by associated faculty or academic support staff. The guidelines for the selection of the award recipients are the same as those given for the Lindback Awards, and the selection processes and deadlines are the same.

Deborah Burnham, SAS


Deborah Burnham, Lecturer and Associate Undergraduate Chair in the Department of English, has been at Penn for almost 30 years, in such positions as Director of Writing Across the University, Administrative Director of the University Scholars Program, and Advising Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. Author of more than 150 poems, she is distinguished by her prodigious range and versatility, teaching courses across a wide spectrum of genres, formats, and students; in the words of a colleague, she “can teach any genre or period of English literature; she is just as good at delivering a riveting lecture as she is at conducting an intimate seminar” and she teaches “courses which I can, without hesitation, recommend to any Penn student, whether a first-year Engineering student…or an advanced English major.” Students and colleagues alike testify to the “environment of open opinion and intellectual growth” that she creates both in and out of the classroom; “her success comes from her ability to treat students on their own terms, each one of them,” as she works tirelessly to advise students and run workshops, while relentlessly perfecting her own teaching methods for “some of the best classroom experiences that Penn has to offer.” 


Connie Scanga, Nursing


Connie Scanga, Practice Assistant Professor of Physiology in the School of Nursing, came to Penn in 2002. In that short time, she has become the “legendary” master teacher in charge of the school’s undergraduate Anatomy and Physiology courses. Here, as attested by almost 100 letters of support from current and former students, she brings together rigor, humor, energy, and empathy to  “make complex content understandable and memorable” without diluting its difficulty, employing “translucent metaphors that students use and apply long into their professional careers.” As her students consistently point out, she teaches every lab section herself; answers e-mails “always in the same day and often within minutes;” and, most famously, knows the name of every student in a large lecture within the first weeks of class “and had a handle on their personalities, learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.” As one of her students puts it, “She gives her entire self to her students and nothing less.” She has become a model not only for undergraduates but also for graduate students and colleagues; in the words of one, she “exemplifies exactly what we all strive to achieve in our teaching—student-focused, pedagogically sound, highly rigorous teaching that results in true and enduring learning that transforms lives.”  


Provost’s Award for Distinguished Ph.D. Teaching and Mentoring

Excellence in PhD education is the hallmark of a great university. That excellence depends upon the skill and commitment of faculty mentors. The Provost’s Award for Distinguished PhD Teaching and Mentoring was established specifically to honor faculty who mentor PhD students. The prize is intended to underscore the University’s emphasis on graduate education, by celebrating the accomplishments of faculty who show special distinction in doctoral education.

Kathleen Hall, GSE/SAS


Kathleen Hall, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education and in the Department of Anthropology in the School of Arts and Sciences, came to Penn in 1995. Director of Penn’s South Asia Center, she is praised by graduate students for “a genuine selflessness, a commitment to cultivating future generations of scholars.” She “is one of those people who are often recruited for multiple things and say no to very few, even if the personal rewards for her are minimal or non-existent.” Students especially admire her ability to understand each one of them individually, while also pushing them to refine and expand their ideas. One student describes her approach as “holistic” as “she balances academic guidance with personal support and encouragement.” They also praise her talents at “positioning herself at the intersection of many disciplines.” As a former student, herself now a professor, notes, “her students receive training that uniquely equips them to move outside of their field and play a key role in shaping growing interdisciplinary fields of study.” One student sums up her approach by recalling her response when thanked for her support: “Working with students like you is the best part of my job.”


Phyllis Solomon, Social Policy & Practice


Phyllis Solomon, Professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice and Professor of Social Work in Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, came to Penn in 1994. A pioneer in the use of  evidence-based research in social work practice, especially in the treatment of severe mental illness, she specializes in teaching the School’s required courses in research methodology. Here, as one student reports, “she pushes her students…toward excellence with a relentlessness that is always honest,” working with them through “many more drafts…than would typically satisfy most faculty members.” She advises her students through every stage of the dissertation process; helps them get national grants to support their research; and continues to mentor, support, and collaborate with them in their professional careers.  She is, writes one graduate, “at once demanding, insistent, and unceasingly generous with her time as a mentor.” Reports one of the many former students who is now herself a leader in the profession: “Meeting her exacting standards was arduous at times and much harder work than I ever expected. However, at the end it is an eminently rewarding experience, and she is an adviser I would not trade for anything.”


Almanac - April 21, 2009, Volume 55, No. 30