2024 Penn Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching celebrated

Ten winners received the Prize, which takes nominations from undergraduates and recognizes master's students and Ph.D. candidates.

People huddled together in front of bright window in the Graduate Center.
Karen Detlefsen, left, pictured with the winners of the 2024 Penn Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.

Inside the Penn Graduate Student Center on April 25, graduate students and friends, families, and supporting staff gathered to celebrate the 10 recipients of the 2024 Penn Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.
“As graduate instructors, Penn Prize winners have made tremendous impacts on Penn students, helping them learn and find connection in classes and fields,” says Bruce Lenthall, co-director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Innovation, which provides support for the awards organized by the Office of the Provost. “The Prize winners’ commitment to their students reminds us how meaningful the engagement between graduate instructors and their students often is here.”
The awards were presented by Karen Detlefsen, vice provost for education, who noted the uniqueness of the awards because nominations are University-wide and come from undergraduates instead of faculty. This year there were 114 nominations that were narrowed by a committee to 20 finalists, and then to 10 winners.
In opening remarks, Detlefsen described the “effusiveness and gratitude” undergraduates showed in their nominations about how much the winning instructors advanced their educations.
Nipun Kottage, a Ph.D. candidate and MD student, won the Prize for teaching Introduction to Medical Anthropology. In the class, he says, students are instructed about health disparities and the political and social nature of them, learning how they can address these disparities in their career. One exercise he had students do was to conduct an interview with a family member who has had an illness experience and then talked through their findings.
“For me, in the classroom, I like to pose proposals to them and invite them to think with me and challenge and inductively build something together as a class,” he says. “We talk about a lot of really challenging issues.”
Winning the Prize, he says, “felt really wonderful” and he was happy to connect with his students again.
“I’m so grateful for all the things students have taught me, and the opportunity to work together in the classroom,” Kottage adds.

Crowd looking on.
Attendees enjoy refreshments inside the Graduate Student Center as Prize winners receive their awards. 

Joyce Kim, a Ph.D. candidate who studies higher education and sociology and also won the Prize, taught Introduction to Sociology and Introduction to Sociology Research Methods. She says she enjoys giving students the opportunity to discover the role sociology plays in their larger lives, as well as the mentoring relationships that happen once the course has ended.
“I think I made it a point to know my students beyond just seeing them within class time,” Kim says. “I took time to set up a pre-semester survey to get to know them beforehand, getting to see how their interests connect with course material, and I try to view them not as students but whole individuals, too.”
She says she was pleasantly surprised to receive the notification about the award, calling it “heartwarming.” She hopes to teach her own class related to the purposes of higher education soon, related to her research.
Steve Zdancewic, a professor of computer science and chair of the selection committee, says many students went well beyond what would be required of teaching assistant practices, and nominations mentioned that teachers exposed them to new ways of approaching a subject or problem.
“Teaching is hard, and good teaching is even harder,” Zdancewic says. “And thankfully, at Penn we have way too many good Ph.D. and graduate students helping with teaching, but we should acknowledge them and their good work. And practically, a lot of TAs may be destined for faculty positions at other places, and having an award like this might make a difference. It’s a way to validate that they have good teaching philosophies.”
Below, the full list of winners of the Penn Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.
· Jeongmoon Choi—Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (SEAS)
· Jonathan Dick—English (SAS)
· Jamie Galanaugh—Neuroscience (PSOM) 
· Joyce Kim—Sociology (SAS/GSE)
· Nipun Kottage—Anthropology (SAS/PSOM)
· Marissa Shandell—Management (Wharton)
· Azsaneé Truss—Communication (Annenberg)
· Jacqueline (Jacqui) Wallis—Philosophy (SAS)
· Caroline Wechsler—History and Sociology of Science (SAS/PSOM)
· Hannah Xiao—Data Science (SEAS)