2006 Pinanski Prize citation

Presentation of Awards

Frank L. Bidart

“Professor Frank Bidart chooses his words in his courses the way he might in one of his poems. There is often silence and space as he conjures the most appropriate word. He often holds his hands in front of him…and, like his turning mind, his hands seek to rediscover and assign words, molding and chiseling them…He always selects the most appropriate words for the idea or sentiment he is trying to convey, whether in his poetry or in his courses.” This is how one student describes Professor of English Frank Bidart’s presence in the classroom.

Professor Bidart helps students blend critical acuity and creativity. His nominators appreciated the comfort of his classroom. It enables student poets, in their own voices, to risk presenting publicly the private thoughts expressed in their poetry, and to develop confidence as writers. Because he “was never afraid to tell me if sections of my poems were ‘disappointing,’ one student wrote, “I trusted him those times he told me my poems were ‘wonderful.’”

Students especially valued the critical sensibilities they honed in Frank Bidart’s classes, and they came to see that gaining a deep and nuanced appreciation of a poem’s artistic merit is an arduous yet rewarding task. They applauded and absorbed his exacting standards. “I like it” is never a sufficient response to a poem, another student wrote.

Students reflect on the transformative experience they have in Professor Bidart’s classroom. They describe how they overcome an initial diffidence about their writing, as they find their work being treated as seriously as if they were published poets. In the words of one nominator: “Without Frank Bidart and his courses, I never would have considered myself a poet.” Another expressed her gratitude to Professor Bidart for ensuring that she continue writing by helping her develop a plan with specific recommendations for her work in the future.

Summing up, a student simply wrote: “He is a true poet and the true poet is a great teacher.”

Nolan T. Flynn

In their nomination letters, students praise Nolan Flynn, assistant professor of chemistry, as an exceptional individual who inspires them, in and out of class.

They describe courses in which he uses creative and playful techniques to convey challenging concepts, but never at the expense of clarity or seriousness of purpose. As one student nominator explained, Professor Flynn “used a variety of media—such as animations, analogies, associations with past chemistry coursework, interactive demonstrations, pictorial representations, and more, to complement his explanations and to target different types of learning styles, so that the concepts retained their substance and depth rather than simply being oversimplified in order to ensure comprehension. ”Many students praised Professor Flynn not only for his attention to the variety of their learning styles, but also for his sincere interest in hearing their feedback about his teaching throughout the course, and his willingness to fine-tune his teaching along the way.

It is evident from the letters of nomination that, through these and other strategies, Nolan Flynn reaches and challenges all chemistry students—whether entry-level or advanced, reluctant or eager. Several confessed to having had serious trepidations about studying chemistry before they encountered Professor Flynn’s course and of having completed it with a whole new appreciation for the field. One student wrote, “I have always hated chemistry…Nolan Flynn changed all that. I will not go as far as to say I love chemistry now, but I definitely like and appreciate it.” Students in his upper-level courses spoke admiringly of his efforts to expose them to the latest developments in chemistry, to new and advanced instruments, and to opportunities to conduct research in other laboratories.

Student nominators repeatedly commended Professor Flynn for creating a supportive environment in which to pursue their study of chemistry. He learned all of their names in the first day or two of classes, fostered a culture of science in which collaboration and not competition was the norm, and conveyed to his students that he cares deeply about who they are—and not only as chemistry students. He made time to attend their basketball games and music recitals and to be a sympathetic listener, whatever was on their minds.

“In short,” one student wrote, “Nolan Flynn exemplifies what I think of as the ideal Wellesley teacher—supportive, passionate and extremely knowledgeable about his field.”

Ann Velenchik

Associate Professor of Economics Ann Velenchik is such a witty and dynamic lecturer, student nominators wrote, that no one would want to miss even a single class—despite the fact that it met in the middle of the night for them—at 8:30 a.m. Her lectures are scintillating, totally entertaining, substantive, and memorable.

Whether drawing on examples involving shoes or handbags, or hilarious analogies from everyday life, Ann Velenchik manages to encapsulate economic principles so vividly that her students not only understand them, they never forget them. Her students describe a classroom experience that is supportive and fun, but always challenging. One student nominator explains that Professor Velenchik “commands respect, but is never intimidating.”

Professor Velenchik is a tough grader who runs a classroom in which she and her students meet the highest standards. By expecting that her students will master highly technical and difficult material, and teaching them the skills they need to do so, she enables them to develop not only economic competence but also confidence in their intellectual abilities.

The nomination letters for Ann Velenchik are suffused with admiration and affection for this master teacher. In their letters, students describe a professor who is unfailingly committed to her students’ learning, in the classroom and beyond, and who serves as a resource to students in their academic and personal lives. She is a role model, too, who permits students to see, as one remarked, “that my professors are human.”