This year’s Distinguished Teaching Award winners define excellence in the classroom — and dedication to their students

At a ceremony at Zellerbach Playhouse on Thursday, April 22, four Berkeley faculty members — acclaimed by their peers and students alike — will receive the campus’s top honor for exceptional teaching. Below, a preview.

Line Mikkelsen

Peg Skorpinski photos

Line Mikkelsen

Title: Assistant Professor of Linguistics
At Berkeley: Since 2004

Words of wisdom: “[O]ne principle that guides me in teaching… is that everyone in the room must learn something from every class, including me. This keeps me engaged in teaching and furthers my own intellectual development class by class and course by course.”

Mikkelsen’s research interests are the syntax, semantics and morphology of natural language. Yet while her publications bear such seemingly dry titles as “A morphological analysis of definite nouns in Danish,” her students pepper their evaluations with words like “passion,” “joy,” and even “love.”

“Professor Mikkelsen loves syntax as you can only love something that you believe is greater than yourself,” wrote one admiring undergrad, “and this inspires what is, truly, distinguished teaching.” Mikkelsen, said another, “never seemed to lapse from a state of pure joy and excitement about teaching this material.”

Summed up a third: “She explains everything clearly, is passionate about linguistics, and is always fair to students. I’ve had her for two classes now, and wish I could have 10 more.”

Juan Pestana-Nascimento

Juan Pestana-Nascimento

Title: Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
At Berkeley: Since 1994

Words of wisdom: “I strongly believe that without the genuine engagement of the hearts and minds of students, teaching techniques are insufficient to attain a higher level of performance and permanence. … I remain grateful for the opportunity to have fun every time I am in front of the class, learning the subject again and again.”

After graduating from college in Venezuela, Pestana-Nascimento immigrated to the United States to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees at MIT. His work involves geotechnical engineering, environmental geotechnics and geotechnical earthquake engineering. He calls teaching “an intensely personal experience,” and his students seem to agree.

“His enthusiasm is contagious,” says one, likening him to “a cool uncle” who “can make you feel smart by making you understand everything he tells you.”

Pestana-Nascimento, says another student, “has a wonderful personality and will brighten up your day with his presence. … He cares a lot about his students and will not only help with class material, but with life and our future education.”

And one evaluation made the case in a single sentence: “He is a professor not only of geotechnical engineering, but of life in general.”

Dan Klein

Dan Klein

Title: Associate Professor, Computer Science Division, Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences
At Berkeley: Since 2004

Words of wisdom: “When I teach, I think a lot about the student perspective. What is the course experience like for them? How are they connecting to the material? Why are they excited about it in the first place? … Teaching well requires connecting the understanding of an expert back to the conceptual state of a beginner.”

Klein describes his research as focusing on “the automatic organization of natural language information,” including such topics as linguistic analysis, machine translation and speech recognition. To the undergrads in his artificial-intelligence class, what really distinguishes him as a teacher is the human touch he brings to the learning experience.

“No other professors I’ve heard of can be seen running a ballroom-dancing workshop, serving as a faculty speaker on last-minute notice, and starring in an EECS theater night,” wrote one student.

Another applauded his use of project-related contests, which allowed the class “to get creative with the course material” and “gave me and many other students the first taste of what real research might be like.”

Klein also won kudos for “his holistic view on teaching” and for making sure his “beginners” stay engaged throughout the semester: “I’ve never had a class,” said one undergrad, “where a professor cared so much about whether students were learning.”

Teck-Hua Ho

Teck-Hua Ho

Title: William Halford Jr. Family Professor of Marketing, Haas School of Business
At Berkeley: Since 2002

Words of wisdom: “It is a joy to be able to teach my own research to bright Berkeley students, whose questions often probe me to think deeper about the subject and provide new research ideas. … I find that what I put in (my time in and out of class, energy, enthusiasm, and research) is what I get out of these students.”

A prolific author, one-time faculty chair and the director of the Asia Business Center, Ho’s teaching prowess was apparent to his colleagues from his earliest days on the Berkeley faculty, as several previous awards attest. Nor has the value he brings to the lecture hall been lost on his business students.

“While students are told that his research is respected by his peers,” went one evaluation, “what really shines through is his excitement for every moment spent in the classroom, and even outside of class.”

He was described by one student as “extremely engaging, personable, funny, approachable… and clearly dedicated to helping students succeed and learn,” while another lauded his “gift for making the conceptual material clear, easy to understand and relevant.”

Said one student, keeping it short and sweet: “Teck rocks!”