The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 20, 2002
May 20, 2002
VOL. 31, NO. 35


Student Council Awards for Excellence in Teaching

By Michael Purdy
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Homewood Student Council has announced that this year's Excellence in Teaching Awards will go to Stuart "Bill" Leslie, professor in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology Department, and Dustin Yoon, a junior who served as a teaching assistant for the Introduction to Chemistry laboratory, both in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

The awards are for an outstanding faculty member and teaching assistant on the Homewood campus, and are known as the President's Cup and the Chairman's Cup, respectively. Undergraduate students nominated teachers for the awards, and final selection of winners was determined by a Student Council committee.

Stuart Leslie

Manish Gala, the student body president, said Leslie's ability to "address the interests and concerns of his students" played a big role in the award.

"Through fantastic lectures and personal interaction, he consistently leaves students invigorated by the material," Gala said. "What particularly impressed the committee is that he can do these things in classes ranging in size from 20 students to 200."

Leslie, who serves on the President's Commission on Undergraduate Education, said he was particularly happy to receive the Student Council's President's Cup this year because his work with the committee inspired him to invest significant time and effort in revamping a course he teaches on the history of the automobile.

"The committee has placed a lot of emphasis on the fact that education is not just about what faculty members do in terms of teaching but about what faculty members and students do together in terms of learning," Leslie explained. "It's not about creative teaching. It's about creative, collaborative learning."

With that in mind, Leslie developed two new writing assignments for students in History of the American Automobile. The first was an "auto"-biography where students had to tell their own life history through the cars they and their family had owned. The second involved reading one of three famous books about life on the road, and then planning and writing about their own road trip.

"Three students took a trip to Niagara Falls and wrote it up on a single scroll of paper, just like Jack Kerouac did for On the Road," Leslie said.

With approximately 180 students in the class, Leslie had quite a lot of reading and grading to do as a result of the new assignments, but he said it was well worth it because many of the papers were fun to read, and the students have been able to explore the impact of automotive technology on culture and life from a first-person perspective.

The other course Leslie taught this semester, Las Vegas, the Eighth Wonder of the World, involves a four-day field trip to Las Vegas. It has previously been featured as an unusual and innovative class in articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere.

The course grew out of another class, The Seven Wonders of the Modern World, that described the engineering feats necessary to produce ancient and modern wonders like the pyramids of Egypt, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. When Leslie realized that facsimiles of most of the ancient and several of the modern wonders exist in Las Vegas, and that Vegas could be used to exemplify a smorgasbord of important topics in American culture like gambling, atomic power, organized crime and the centrality of entertainment, he decided to develop a course focused on the city.

While in Vegas, students met Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman; saw Hoover Dam; dined at Tony Roma's, a restaurant famous as the scene of a mob hit; and, of course, had a little time to try their luck at Vegas' favorite pastime, gambling.

For the teaching assistant award, Gala said the committee selected Yoon because of the "high praise" he received from his students.

"In addition to delivering the lab lectures himself, he made an extra effort to ensure that his students had all their questions answered and took away a good understanding of the material," Gala explained. "Often, this would involve him dedicating a significant portion of his free time to this pursuit."