Pinanski Prize Full Citation

Presentation of the Awards

Lee Cuba

There is a sense of energy that radiates through the letters written on behalf of Lee Cuba, the William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of sociology. In their letters, student describe him as “jumping headlong” into an advisory role, they speak of his “vigor” and his “energized” teaching and how he “daringly and masterfully” leads classroom discussions, and, not surprisingly, they describe him showing up to class every morning with a huge smile on his face, “exuding enthusiasm for his students and for teaching.”

Students portray Lee Cuba as an insightful and engaging professor who demands the highest quality work but who guides them in that undertaking, continually challenging them to more clearly and more vigorously develop and articulate their thoughts. With these high expectations come great enthusiasm and great patience and, ultimately, his students feel "richly rewarded" for "keeping pace with the coursework."

Describing the impact Professor Cuba has had on her, one student writes, “Just a week ago, I was answering a question during my senior exit interview regarding how I had grown during my time at Wellesley. My response was, ‘It all began with Lee.’”

Students express their admiration for his patience and generosity as a mentor.  “His undivided attention in providing counsel and feedback on paper topics and post-graduation endeavors brought a perspective and calm to my final months at Wellesley that I greatly appreciated,” wrote one student. As an advisor to students both at Wellesley and in their lives afterward he is, in the words of one nominator, “avid and insightful in the nuances of life – academic, professional and otherwise.”

Beyond his impact as a teacher and mentor, Professor Cuba fosters in his students a “profound love for our alma mater,” as one student writes. She describes how he creates “a clear connection across the many generations and communities of Wellesley women with whom he has worked, at and for the college.” These women, she explains, “share a love, respect and gratitude for Lee Cuba whether they knew him as professor, advisor, Dean of the College or friend.” Another student describes her confusion when, on the last day of class, Professor Cuba brought out a bag of Happy Meal-like plastic toys and gave one to each senior. His students weren’t quite sure what to make of these gifts until he explained their purpose: the toys were noisemakers and he charged the seniors to “take them into the world and listen because they will help you find your Wellesley sisters wherever you go.”

Professor Lee Cuba has given to many Wellesley students a rich educational experience and an abiding appreciation for this institution. It is their hope that receiving the Pinanski Prize will begin to convey to him their deep appreciation of him. It is my privilege to confer on Professor Cuba the 2008 Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Dennis Smith

Professor Dennis Smith is praised by his nominators for being a dynamic teacher, a passionate researcher and a dedicated and caring mentor. In the words of one student nominator, Professor Smith “truly exemplified the profound dedication to teaching and authentic caring that are fundamental to a liberal arts education such as Wellesley’s.” He is remembered as a “masterful lecturer” who revealed sharp wit and easygoing humor in his teaching. Students fondly recall his uncanny ability to make even the most difficult and dull material fascinating. Through his “gee whiz facts” and colorful anecdotes, “learning was fun and stuck easily, but was also incredibly accurate and deep.” Who could forget the imagery of an osteoclast as a “multinucleate monster that munches on bones”?

While perhaps intimidating at first, with an imposing stature and a booming voice, Professor Smith quickly revealed himself to be an accessible and caring teacher. He made it clear to his students that classroom learning required a commitment both from them and from him; he kept up his end and inspired his students to do the same. Professor Smith challenged his students to think at the graduate level and provided them with the atmosphere and support they needed in order to do so. He was always patient, always encouraging and always welcoming. Students especially valued his dedication, with one recalling that “he would come in on weekend nights if that was the only time we could meet him.”

His passion for his research was infectious. One student described in her letter how his demonstrations on the electron microscope opened up the world of microscopy to her and inspired her to begin her own research. In his laboratory, students were encouraged to be independent. His “unassuming approach to mentorship” translated into a willingness to let students learn from their mistakes while encouraging them to aim high.  One student describes how “in keeping with the spirit of a woman’s college” Dennis Smith provided for her, and for others, “what, in matters of intellectual freedom, amounted to a ‘lab of one’s own.’” He was, as another nominator wrote, “a man whose inimitable dedication to his students continues to inspire the people whose lives he has touched.”

As one nominator noted in her letter, “It is said that the best educators leave a piece of themselves with their students,” and it is clear from the nomination letters that Dennis Smith had a profound impact on his students. With his passing, Wellesley College lost in Dennis Smith not only a strong leader but a loyal friend. He left a piece of himself with all of us and Wellesley is fortunate to have had him as a member of our community for 27 years. It is my privilege to award this honor to him posthumously.

Patricia A. Gray Berman

In their nominations letters, students describe Patricia Gray Berman, Theodora L. and Stanley H. Feldberg professor of art, as a professor who creates the conditions that enable them to learn to trust and to respect their own intellectual and analytical abilities, and to develop confidence and independence. She is repeatedly praised for being “inspirational,” “articulate,” “charismatic” and “passionate.”

According to the student nominators, Professor Berman’s greatest strength as a teacher is the way in which she challenges her students to develop their own ideas and interpretative skills. These students praise her for guiding them as they learn to formulate their intellectual voices, rather than leading them to any so-called “right” answers. One student described this experience through the use of the analogy of a "midwife," with Professor Berman providing critical advice but not directing her through the research and writing process. This teaching style that honors the intelligence and autonomy of her students resulted in an “exuberant” thesis experience according to one of her students, which is certainly not an inconsequential accomplishment!

Students express admiration for Professor Berman’s ability to master the “technical gymnastics” involved in a teaching style in which she solicits her students’ analyses through a variety of techniques and then weaves their responses into the framework of her lectures. This collaborative model of teaching both models respect for her students as learners, and is crucial in enabling them to become critical, independent thinkers. Her students commend her for demanding that they understand the artistic, social, historical and political contexts that are essential to an object's meaning as artwork. By encouraging them to generate their own questions about art objects, she creates a collaborative learning experience that actively engages and motivates her students to hone their analytical skills. Without exception, students praised Professor Berman for both what they learned and how they learned it. As one grateful student wrote, "I completed her classes with a great deal of 'book knowledge,' but even more valuable than that knowledge is the intellectual confidence and independence that she fostered in me." Another student echoed this sentiment, pointing out that as best teachers do, Professor Berman has "given me myself."

In the words of one student nominator, which sums up the sentiments of many, “Beyond her scholarly and curatorial accomplishments, which are numerous, Professor Berman is a truly exceptional teacher whose rigorous, careful and thoughtful guidance and invitations to grow and achieve have made me even more passionate about learning, applying what I learn and being actively engaged in the world around me.”

It is with great pleasure that I present the Pinanski Prize to Professor Berman. She is an invaluable asset to the Wellesley academic community that we honor here today.