Distinguished Teaching honors for gifted faculty trio

Berkeley’s 2011 Distinguished Teaching Award, the campus’s top honor for exceptional teaching, will be presented this week to three faculty members selected for their inspirational classroom work in the fields of history, chemistry and English.

Robin Einhorn

This year’s recipients — chosen, as always, by their peers and students — are Robin Einhorn, a professor of history; Phillip Geissler, an associate professor of chemistry; and Kent Puckett, an associate professor of English.

The Distinguished Teaching Award is bestowed annually by the Committee on Teaching, a standing committee of the Berkeley division of the Academic Senate. The award was instituted in 1959.

In his nominating letter, Einhorn’s colleague David Johnson called her “a teacher of genius” in leading the history department’s “most important gateway course,” U.S. history from the Civil War to the present. Praise also came from her students, without regard to enrollment status: “I’m not even in this class,” wrote one admirer, “but I come every Monday and Wednesday for the lectures. It’s that good of a class.” A committee member wrote that Einhorn “captures the students’ imaginations with her formidable intelligence and deep learning. Extraordinary and exhilarating teaching.”

Phillip Geissler

Geissler, a specialist in theoretical chemistry, is “a truly gifted teacher at all levels of instruction, as well as being an outstanding researcher,” in the view of department chair Daniel Neumark. “Passionate, inspiring,” wrote one student. “I speak without exaggeration when I say that taking his classes and having him as a teacher, a mentor and a friend was one the biggest factors that made my Berkeley experience special.” In his own teaching statement, Geissler described the “wonder and excitement” of physical chemistry, and successfully demonstrated it for one committee member: “I see the pursuit of wonder and excitement in the class,” wrote the observer, “both in his explanations and in students’ reception.”

Kent Puckett

Puckett won praise from undergrads and grad students alike for his classes on 19th-century British literature, the novel, literary theory, psychoanalysis and narrative theory. “Graduate students, not ordinarily given to flights of enthusiasm, reach for words like ‘wonderful,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘fantastic’ and ‘incredible’ in describing his teaching,” said his nomination letter. A committee member chose another adjective: “The lecture was perfectly organized and presented,” read the assessment. “It was, in a word, luminous.” And one undergrad, in a course evaluation, gushed, “I’m pretty sure everyone in the class had a crush on his genius.”

Einhorn, Geissler and Puckett will be honored at a public ceremony Thursday, April 21, at 5 p.m. at the Zellerbach Playhouse, with a reception to follow in the Toll Room of Alumni House.