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. The online ExcellenceInTeachingAwardNomination.pdf is available on this site and a hardcopy version is printed in the newsletter (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. Deadline for nomination: November 30.
Courtney Lehmann, Ph.D.; Dept. of English, Director of the Powell Scholars Program, University of the Pacific; PBK University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill 1989 (Hasenkamp Award)
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.
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.
R. Lanier Anderson, J.E. Wallace Sterling Prof. in Humanities, Sr Associate Dean of Humanities and Arts, Dept. of Philosophy, Stanford University
Despite being exceptionally busy as chair and now Dean, Professor Anderson often spends up to an hour after class answering clarifying questions or delving into a deeper discussion. Crucially, he never makes students feel bad for taking up his time or that he is eager to leave the conversation and go elsewhere. His attention to a student in the moment is absolute, the kind of affirming encouragement that tells us that we are a priority. … Professor Anderson’s commitment to student engagement helps students develop analytical abilities that they can then deploy, in his class, in service of questions of personal, intellectual import. … Not only is he a remarkable researcher, but it is also clear that he cares deeply about teaching. He is an animated teacher, bringing to life the stakes of an argument and hooking his students immediately.
Philosophy is notorious for joining math and physics as the disciplines perceived as “genius” fields, a distinction that brings with it shocking demographics with a dearth of women and people of color. … it’s important that faculty members [do as Professor Anderson does to] help build up a culture of encouragement, so that the work is not left to the few role models of underrepresented identities. Professor Anderson has been a crucial mentor and advocate for me, helping me to see myself as belonging in philosophy.
Barbara Barnes, Dept. of Gender and Women’s Studies, U.C. Berkeley
Dr. Barnes is a legend among students, who often arrive early to discuss her previous lectures, sharing epiphanies with each other. Her syllabi contain a balanced mix of foundational texts and newly published works; thus, her students receive a grounded understanding of the history and context of each topic while also responding to recent scholarly discussions. Her readings demand an understanding of complex theories across multiple fields of inquiry. To ensure that each student fully comprehends these concepts, Dr. Barnes establishes a culture of inclusion within the classroom, and this sense of belonging increases trust and safety so that each student feels personally invited to participate….
Dr. Barnes’ lectures are engaging and inspiring. She sparks the imagination and encourages cutting edge ideas. She teaches people how to think critically about the world in which we live while creating a safe environment wherein students learn, explore, and innovate. She does this by perfectly balancing the material she teaches with student participation. Dr. Barnes embodies a level of skill and talent that is extremely rare.Video prepared by Barbara Barnes
Stephen Hinshaw, Dept. of Psychology, U.C. Berkeley
Stephen Hinshaw perfectly walks the line between someone distraught by the past and present societal practices around mental illness and someone who is wonderfully hopeful that society can change. He encouraged empathy and understanding supremely. He challenged students to critically think, constantly question, and never fall victim to groupthink. Professor Hinshaw could powerfully articulate the troubles in the mental health field while still leaving students with a sense of optimism and power to change. Never before have I had the privilege of experiencing such a thoughtful, driven, and accomplished teacher on a regular basis. My time in his class is one of the most cherished times in my life. He is incredibly deserving of this amazing honor.Video prepared by Stephen Hinshaw
Scott D. Sagan, Dept. of Political Science, Stanford University
… In almost every meeting, the central question Professor Sagan would raise was how our work would support the praxis of the policy world. … the quality of his work that I most admire is his capacity to use a thorough inspection of philosophy and history to guide pragmatic policy recommendations. Above all, Professor Sagan is a caring mentor. Though Professor Sagan’s expectations for his students are the highest, I am inspired by his open-mindedness and humility. He listens to my ideas, considers every edit or direction I suggest, critiques my work with honest and helpful comments, and encourages me to publish my own writing. The respect and kindness Professor Sagan shows to his students was evident at a Stanford event in DC this July. Several former research assistants and students showed up to hear his talk, and after the event, we all got together to reminisce over how much we appreciated his guidance and mentorship. Truly, this network of Sagan students is remarkable; grounded by his example, Professor Sagan’s students are eager mentors and have helped me find my own professional and personal directions.Video prepared by Scott Sagan
James Housefield, Dept of Design, UC Davis
He has the respect of hundreds of students and what's even better is that he respects every one of his students just as much. After meeting a student once, he already commits their name, face, and interests into his memory. He's one of the few professors and human beings I feel like truly and honestly cares about people. He's an academic and a historian, a fantastic orator, a lifetime learner, an incredible human being, and for me, a life-changer. And I know I'm not the only person who thinks that. He is the most deserving person I can think of to receive this Teaching Excellence award, especially for all the work he's done for the art and design field, through scholarly research and through the students he has mentored to step into their full potential
Daniel Mason, Dept of Psychiatry, Stanford University
I would like to enthusiastically nominate Dr. Daniel Mason for the Phi Beta Kappa teaching prize. I have had the pleasure of taking two of Dr. Mason’s classes: the Literature of Psychosis, for which I am now a TA, and Culture and Madness. These classes have by far been the most influential and transformative I have taken at Stanford, and I am sure that I will continue to apply these lessons far after I have graduated from Stanford.
Dr. Mason is first and foremost one of the most genuinely caring professors I have ever had. He cares deeply that each student has the opportunity engage with the material, have their opinions heard during class, and also have their viewpoints challenged (respectfully!) during class discussions. Dr. Mason takes great care to read each and every student reading response before lecture, revising the day’s lesson plan based on what students have written, and questions they raised in their responses. This is a great labor of love that speaks to how much time and dedication Dr. Mason is willing to put in to ensure that the students are receiving the best education they can. His class has blossomed from a small introsem to a hugely popular 90- person lecture. Despite the class size, Dr. Mason is able to create a sense of intimacy and camaraderie among his students by investing in each student as though it were still a small seminar class, and also encouraging small-group discussions and debates in class. During the first week, he took the time to memorize the names and faces of each student in class, and greeted them each by name as they entered the classroom. When students raise their hand, he makes the effort to call each student by name. These are small gestures, but meaningful ones that make students feel like they are valued by their professor, and that the classroom is a safe place for them to voice their opinions and learn from their peers.
David Olson, Dept of Chemistry, UC Davis
As a student involved in undergraduate research, I had many friends who worked at laboratories in various departments at UC Davis. During our conversations, I became aware of how fortunate I was to have Dr. Olson as a mentor. His approach to the education of undergraduate students in the laboratory was unique among his colleagues. Most principal investigators assign undergraduate researchers to projects that are already led by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Moreover, the responsibilities of these undergraduate researchers are limited to conducting basic experiments and analyzing data without any knowledge of the purpose behind their actions or the ultimate goal of the research project. Dr. Olson on the hand treats his undergraduate students like any other member of his research group. Accordingly, they share similar responsibilities. They are routinely involved in discussions surrounding the fate of the research group and are always encouraged to participate in group meetings. My personal experience was not any different.
Gabriel Orebi Gann, Dept of Physics, UC Berkeley
Professor Orebi Gann stands out for multiple reasons, both as an instructor and as a mentor. She was my instructor for my very first physics class at Berkeley - introductory mechanics. Making the leap from high school to college is always daunting but particularly so when going to one of the best physics departments in the world. Professor Orebi Gann facilitated this transition excellently in a way that managed to achieve the delicate balance between pushing her students hard and exposing them to a more sophisticated way of thinking and ensuring that her students had a good understanding of the basics of the material. In this way she effectively taught us freshmen topics typically reserved for upperclassmen, such as coupled oscillators and in depth look at Kepler orbits, without scaring us all into changing our majors and instead keeping our interest fully engaged. In fact, now in hindsight as an upperclassman I am amazed at what she was able to teach us considering she only had the tools of Newtonian mechanics and not the more advanced machinery of Lagrangian mechanics. Lectures were peppered with humour and engaging demos.
Robert Siegel, Dept of Microbiology, Stanford University
Dr. Siegel is constantly thinking about how he can help his students and genuinely cares about the future of each and every student. Dr. Siegel even hosts Breakfast Meetings at his house, so students have the opportunity to speak with leading experts in the fields of Women’s Health, Infectious Disease, and Global Health. Through these discussions, students are inspired to address pressing issues in Global Health and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Siegel reminds his students that it’s never too early to think critically about issues that we feel passionate about, and more importantly, it’s never too early to change the world. Dr. Siegel’s passion for mentorship has been the reason why I feel empowered to address global issues such as the rise of antibiotic resistance. Dr. Siegel is truly changing the world one student at a time.
Ron E. Hassner, Department of Political Science, UC Berkeley (Hasenkamp Award)
"the quality of critical analysis and innovation in Ron's courses always exceeds expectations."
Kinch Hoekstra, Department of Political Science, UC Berkeley
"it helps that he also brings to every discussion an additional layer of philosophical discussion that reaches well beyond the historical confines of any text the class reads."
Naomi Janowitz, Department of Religious Studies, UC Davis
"Every student must attend her office hour at least once and give feed back on the class"
Martha Olney, Department of Economics, UC Berkeley
"she is capable of breaking down complicated economics concepts into pieces that are easy to understand and connect to the real world."
Jon D. Rossini, Department of Theatre and Dance, UC Davis"He is committed to teaching students not only about theatre history, but about what theatre can do in the present and in the future."