The Society of Columbia Graduates recently hosted its 57 th Great Teacher Awards ceremony. This year's recipients were Gareth D. Williams, the Theodore Kahan Professor of Humanities and chair of the Department of Classics at Columbia College, and Tony F. Heinz, the David M. Rickey Professor of Optical Communications and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).
The evening featured an address by Harold Brown, who served as defense secretary under President Carter and who holds three degrees from Columbia. Brown spoke on "Science, Technology and Engineering -- Their Effect on U.S. Global Stature."
Addressing the question of whether the United States will be left behind in the race toward global technological advancement, he underscored the need to improve the quality of science and math education for American middle school and high school students.
Each year, the Society of Columbia Graduates presents teaching awards to one faculty member from Columbia College and one from the engineering school. Past recipients include such renowned instructors as Mark van Doren, Mort Friedman and Lionel Trilling.
This year's ceremony, held in the Low Library Rotunda, drew a number of students along with Columbia faculty, administrators and alumni. Interviewed beforehand, Brigette Libby, CC'04 and now at Princeton University, said, "Professor Williams is the reason I'm in graduate school. His encouragement gave me the confidence to continue."
Hayn Park, SEAS'06, described Heinz as "much more to me than just a teacher -- he's also my mentor. He understands your needs and really engages the class."
Accepting their awards, both professors were modest to the point of self-effacing, insisting that their teaching success had everything to do with the quality of Columbia students. Heinz said that his students were "the most central part of my life" and that he looked forward "to many more years of joint discovery with Columbia's outstanding students."
Likewise, Williams said he was "lucky to come into contact with students who transform teaching into a collaborative form."