Teaching Excellence Awardees

Phi Beta Kappa takes teaching very seriously. That is why the Northern California Association makes annual Teaching Excellence Awards to up to five outstanding teachers who are faculty members at one of the eight Northern California universities and colleges that harbor PBK chapters. 

These awards are conferred to honor those who have been outstanding teachers and mentors in the opinion of members of ΦBKNCA. They are those who have taught an especially memorable course, or who have had a special impact on the education, career, life, or who have been found inspiring or particularly admirable by a ΦBKNCA member.

From 1989 to 2021 we have honored 168 excellent teachers!

Each awardee receives a handsome certificate, invitation to the Annual Awards Dinner, and a modest honorarium ($1000 in recent years). Even those worthy nominees who do not receive awards are almost always delighted to have been nominated.

Any member of ΦBK may make nominations; the nominee need not be. Please note that eligibility for the award is limited to faculty members at the Northern California schools housing Phi Beta Kappa Chapters (see this page). All Phi Beta Kappa members are cordially invited to submit nominations; the online nomination form is available here, A printable form can be obtained at ExcellenceInTeachingAwardNomination.pdf but we prefer that you use the electronic form. The printed form may be published in the September issue of the Newsletter. More information can be obtained from the Teaching Excellence Chair.

How do I nominate a Teacher?

An online Nomination Form is available and a hardcopy version is available ExcellenceInTeachingAwardNomination.pdf (but we prefer the online version). Applications are due November 30, but make them now while memory is fresh! A nomination consists of a filled-out form, plus an account of why you think a nominee deserves recognition as an outstanding teacher.

What schools are included?

All faculty members at the eight Phi Beta Kappa institutions  - Mills College, San Francisco State University, Santa Clara University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, or University of the Pacific will be eligible.

2021 Laureates

Courtney Lehmann, Ph.D.; Dept. of English, Director of the Powell Scholars Program, University of the Pacific.

View a video of Dr. Lehmann discussing her teaching philosophy

Dr. Courtney Lehmann goes above and beyond to provide the most holistic and meaningful education to each of her students. She is the Director of the Powell Scholars Program, the University of the Pacific's highest academic merit scholarship that funds tuition, independent research, and study abroad opportunities. The program's goal is to cultivate leaders and global thinkers to make a difference in our communities, and Dr. Lehmann runs the club with fortitude and optimism. She is absolutely dedicated to developing students as moral human beings who strive to make the world a better place. For example, in my class, she helped facilitate an SAT tutoring initiative for disadvantaged kids in the Stockton community to help equalize opportunity despite socioeconomic status. In our thinking as students, she continues to push students to actualize our goals fully. Everything that she does contributes to an environment where students truly feel as though they can realize their full potential. For this, I deeply thank Dr. Lehmann for her incredible academic achievements and the knack she has for drawing out of each of her students.


Paul Graham Fisher M.D.; Dept. of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Chief of the Division of Child Neurology, Stanford University.

View a video of Dr. Fisher discussing his teaching philosophy

Out of all the teachers I had at Stanford over my four years there, I cannot think of a more deserving instructor for this award than Dr. Paul Fisher. He cares deeply about his students, inspires them to be better students and more thoughtful people, and facilitates critical thinking in the classroom. I was never officially Paul’s mentee, but he always made time to meet with me and check in on how I was doing. He would tell me that the path to medicine is a marathon, not a race, and in order to be a good doctor in the future, I needed to take the time to explore my diverse interests and put myself out of my comfort zone. Largely thanks to his encouragement and reassurance...I am currently pursuing a master’s in bioinformatics at Imperial College London under a Fulbright Scholarship. Paul always facilitated critical, analytical, and creative thinking in the classroom.... Paul not only taught the basics of epidemiology, but he also taught us how to process and communicate what we learned in the context of the real world.

William Swagerty, Ph.D.; Dept. of History, Director of the John Muir Center, University of the Pacific.

View a video of Dr. Swagerty discussing his teaching philosophy

Dr. Swagerty is the archetype of a dedicated and passionate teacher… it is so clear how much he genuinely cares about his students. Here, [at the University of the Pacific] students…feel part of a network, with educators truly dedicated to our success. Dr. Swagerty is a perfect example of such an educator. I have taken three classes with him; John Muir's World, Historical Imagination, and Native American History. In every class, it is clear how extensively he knows every single element of every topic he teaches about. One can see his love of the field. As my advisor, Dr. Swagerty constantly believed in me and gave me the confidence to achieve. Without Dr. Swagerty's constant encouragement, I don't know if I would have had the confidence to present a paper of mine. For his dedication to his students and passion for the subject, I believe Dr. Swagerty deserves recognition for his outstanding teaching.

Picture pending

David Cohen, Ph.D.; Dept. of Classics, Director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Stanford University.

David is everything I aspire to be. He is a paragon of interdisciplinary thinking, and he is driven by the desire to create opportunities for his students and colleagues. I am now motivated by the hope of using, and one day being able to pass on, all the knowledge and support he has given me. In addition to teaching in Classics, David leads several important judiciary reform projects in countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, and Ethiopia. Whether in Jakarta, on campus, or over the phone, he has always made himself available to hear my ideas and push me to think more creatively, using his wealth of concrete factual knowledge about the Tokyo Trial, on which he wrote the premier scholarly work, and several different moral and philosophical frameworks gained only through his fieldwork in Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, and the many other transitional justice forums of which he has been a part. David is a true example of teaching excellence. Without a doubt, he is the most impactful faculty member that I have met at Stanford.

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