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Four faculty members recognized for their outstanding teaching

By Ruth Stevens

Princeton NJ -- Four Princeton faculty members received President's Awards for Distinguished Teaching at Commencement ceremonies June 1.

They are: Jeremy Adelman, the Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor in Spanish Civilization and Culture and professor of history; John Fleming, the Louis Fairchild '24 Professor of English and Comparative Literature; Alison Gammie, lecturer in molecular biology; and James Sturm, professor of electrical engineering.


Faculty members honored at Commencement for their excellence in teaching were (from left): James Sturm, Alison Gammie, John Fleming and Jeremy Adelman.


The awards were established in 1991 through gifts by Princeton alumni Lloyd Cotsen '50 and John Sherrerd '52 to recognize excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching by Princeton faculty members. Each winner receives a cash prize of $5,000, and his or her department receives $3,000 for the purchase of new books.

A committee of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and academic administrators selected the winners from nominations by current students, faculty colleagues and alumni.

Adelman, who joined the Princeton faculty in 1992, teaches modern Latin American history and served as director of the Program in Latin American Studies from 1997 to 2001. Colleagues praised his ability to work with students at all levels in different circumstances.

"Some of us give good lectures, others are best in seminars and still others are wonders one on one. Jeremy is one of the few who seems to have no weak sides," wrote a faculty member in nominating him for the award. "He is a fantastic lecturer, he has shaped the research agendas of several of his seminar students, and is widely known as an outstanding undergraduate and graduate adviser."

One former student described his lecture style: "Professor Adelman always lectures with intensity and passion. His voice waxes and wanes as he sets a historical scene bringing time and place to life while commanding the rapt attention of students during the entire 55-minute lecture. The lectures were so full of information and analysis that you could not write fast enough."

Adelman is credited with bringing that same zeal to his administrative duties, reinvigorating the Program in Latin American Studies during his tenure as director. "He brought energy and drive to rebuilding [the] program into an exciting place where graduate students, undergraduates, scholars and others can come face to face to discuss wide-ranging and exciting issues relevant to Latin America," wrote another former student.

Fleming, who earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1963, has been a faculty member since 1965. He teaches courses in medieval literature, the Bible and masterworks of European literature, among others. His class on 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer has achieved almost a cult status among undergraduates, according to a colleague. One former student called Fleming's teaching style "nothing short of dazzling."

"To his incomparable expertise as a medievalist, he brings an exceedingly rich and broad learning, a humane attention to the world of letters and ideas in its widest dimensions," the student wrote. "What is most incredible is that John Fleming succeeds in communicating the intricacies of medieval poetics, along with the broad contours of his literacy, to students undergraduate and graduate alike in a spirit and tone that not only excites their interest but keeps them on the edge of their seats, often laughing so hard they are about to fall out of them."

Fleming also is known for his rapport with students outside the classroom. He served two tenures as master of Wilson College, from 1969 to 1972 and from 1989 to 1997, and also has written a weekly column for The Daily Princetonian since 1996.

"Professor John Fleming has exemplified my image of what Princeton has to offer its students," wrote a current student. "Professor Fleming is a man of enormous academic accomplishment and reputation who nevertheless maintains a personal and inspirational relationship with his students."

Gammie came to Princeton in 1992 and served as a postdoctoral fellow and a research scientist for six years. Since 1998, she has been responsible for the Department of Molecular Biology's required laboratory course for majors. One colleague said she has "revolutionized the [department's] undergraduate program with her discovery-based learning concepts."

Rather than having students work on tried-and-true experiments from manuals, Gammie revamped the laboratory so that they are performing primary research on an actual medical problem colon cancer. In addition to learning laboratory techniques, the students are contributing data to the project. This year's valedictorian, Ruth Tennen, based her senior thesis on research conducted during the laboratory and chose Gammie as her adviser.

"Professor Gammie directs the course with unparalleled clarity and grace," wrote another student. "She presents the material concisely and efficiently, carefully guiding us through the pitfalls inherent in the individual procedures. Professor Gammie's emphasis on understanding the rationale at each step and her encouragement to think of other approaches foster our critical thinking skills and our belief that we can succeed as scientists."

Gammie also directs the department's 50-student summer undergraduate research program, organizes tutorials for juniors and serves as an adviser. "Her support, patience and encouragement were limitless," wrote a former student, "and she was always willing to invest time into helping students."

Sturm, who earned his B.S.E. degree from Princeton in 1979, joined the faculty in 1986. His teaching and research interests range from advanced materials and nanostructures for integrated circuits and large-area displays to the interface of nanotechnology and biology. He has revamped or created new courses and laboratories for engineering students as well as for non-engineering students. In 1993-94, he led the complete overhaul of the electrical engineering undergraduate curriculum. He was named director of the new Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials in 2003.

"Jim has enriched the educational experience of many students at Princeton, both directly through his teaching and mentoring and indirectly through his curriculum and laboratory innovations," wrote one colleague. He previously has won numerous awards for teaching excellence from the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Keck Foundation.

"In one of my early electronic device courses with him, I remember the first few lectures were so shockingly lucid that it was like being hit on the head with a hammer," wrote one former student. "Jim has a way of explaining things to students that makes us wonder why in the world we hadn't understood this before."

Other students wrote of the positive impact Sturm has had on their career choices and their lives. "Professor Sturm has been one of the most important influences on my career," wrote another former student. "In many cases, he made comments and suggestions which directed me in my career, many of which I still reflect upon."