2007 Pinanski Prize for Excellence

Presentation of Awards

Rachid Aadnani

Students praise Rachid Aadnani for accomplishing the near impossible: making accessible to them the language ranked as one of the most difficult for Americans to learn, indeed instilling in his student an enduring desire to master it. He did this, students say, by bringing the language alive, by creating an atmosphere that encouraged experimentation and learning, an atmosphere that was never intimidating, and that always kept his students on the edge of their seats, wondering what might come next.

Whether acting out Arabic words with panache, telling stories of growing up in Morocco, using Arabic music videos for learning exercises, or bringing renowned authors to campus to discuss their writings, Rachid Aadnani renders the language, in the words of one nominator, “a vibrant force in our lives, rather than one contained within the confines of textbook covers.

”In their letters, students describe Ustaadh (meaning “teacher” in Arabic) Aadnani as “creative,” “compassionate,” and “inspiring.” One student nominator told the story of her own rocky beginning in his class, explaining that Professor Aadnani encouraged her to see him weekly for individual tutoring, enabling her to catch up quickly to her classmates and to come to love the class. “Without his encouragement and help,” she writes, “I would never have had the life-changing experience of studying in Egypt.” The course feels less like a conventional classroom than an extended Arabic family, another student observed.

Students express appreciation for Professor Aadnani’s constant encouragement to apply for relevant internships, scholarships, and language programs, and his willingness to write them letters of recommendation.

The grateful Arabic “family” that Rachid Aadnani has gathered around him here describes itself as “scrambling for ways to express its full appreciation for his ‘one-man show’” of inspired Arabic-language teaching. And they hope that receiving the Pinanski Prize will begin to convey to him the depth of their gratitude to their beloved ustaadh.

John S. Cameron

Professor John Cameron is described by so many of his nominators as a masterful lecturer—eloquent, straight-forward and engaging, comfortable in the classroom, and funny in a low-key way—that they might be shocked to learn that he admitted to one of their classmates that when he was a high school student the very thought of speaking in public made him nauseated. Students describe hearing the excitement in his voice as he presents his slides which, as one student writes, have “colors, graphics, videos, pictures, news clips, and links galore.” His love of his work is evident and this passion for his subject is contagious, according to his students.

Students express admiration for Professor Cameron’s seemingly endless supply of patience, answering even the simplest questions with genuine care. They describe a professor who skillfully conveys complex material with ease and, when necessary, persistence, incorporating a variety of teaching techniques and providing the perfect balance of support and independence. Offering the ultimate compliment, one student wrote that “even the exams were interesting!”

Another student describes her initial distress at the idea of dissecting an animal in a biology lab until she took a course with Professor Cameron. In her letter she writes that his “tremendous respect for the animals we use in lab is evident and it is in witnessing how he handles and instructs us to handle laboratory animals that I am awed by both the humanity and the science in what we do.” By instilling in his students respect for the live animals they are using in their research, he ensures that “we take great caution in preparing everything before we sacrifice the goldfish,” attests another nominator.

A number of students expressed regret that they have already taken all of the courses he offers. One devoted student spoke for many when she wrote, “I only wish I were here longer and he was teaching more courses!”

On behalf of generations of admiring and grateful students—and for those still to come—it is my privilege, and my pleasure, to confer on Professor Cameron the 2007 Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Nancy Genero

Students describe Nancy Genero as an “excellent statistician,” a “brilliant psychologist,” a “talented teacher,” and, “a good person.” Students praise Professor Genero for providing a structured learning environment, delivering extremely well-organized, dynamic lectures, and using examples that illustrate vividly the often difficult concepts she’s teaching in class. As a master teacher, Nancy Genero couples this purposeful structure with the flexibility that keeps her classes open to opportunities for serendipitous learning. Statistics courses are notoriously dry and difficult, but this unusual statistics professor is able to adapt her syllabus, as necessary, to allow her students to explore techniques they find most interesting and to elucidate analyses they find most puzzling.

Her students describe a professor who constantly reaches out to students to make sure they understand the material—long after the patience of other teachers might have been exhausted. This approach pays off for her students, inspiring their very best work, as a number of her students attest. One student writes, “her advanced stats class pushed me to think about information in an entirely new way and required a level of independence I did not know I possessed.” In the words of another student nominator, “she couples this tremendous involvement, this determination to see everyone succeed, with a refusal to accept excuses; it is this tough love approach that forces her students to aspire to new levels.”

In letter after letter, Nancy is described as being a wonderful mentor and friend, forming personal connections with her students and often baking cupcakes for birthdays and sending “e-cards” during holidays. “Professor Genero is, without any hesitation, the best professor that I have ever had at Wellesley,” said an illustrative nomination letter. “Heading into statistics on the first day of classes last fall, I was absolutely terrified…dreading it with every inch of my soul. I entered the classroom with knees knocking. From the moment she walked into this room, she dispelled the fear and I grew to truly love statistics.”

On behalf of her grateful students, and for Professor Nancy Genero’s genuine dedication to those students, for her intellectual curiosity, and for the many ways in which her teaching expresses her dedication and commitment to the values of this college, it gives me great pleasure to present her with the 2007 Pinanski Teaching Prize.”