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2006 Provost’s Award for Distinguished Ph.D. Teaching and Mentoring
September 19, 2006, Volume 53, No. 4

Excellence in Ph.D. education is the hallmark of a great university. That excellence, in turn, depends upon the skill and commitment of faculty mentors. The Provost’s Award for Distinguished Ph.D. Teaching and Mentoring was established in 2003-2004. Designed specifically to honor faculty who mentor Ph.D. students, this prize is intended to underscore the University’s strategic emphasis on graduate education, by celebrating the accomplishments of faculty who show special distinction in doctoral education.

The selection committee was composed of awardees from previous years: Stuart Curran, Lila Gleitman, Michael Nusbaum, and Amos Smith. The committee evaluated the nominees based on the letters of recommendation from former students, faculty colleagues, and from the wider research community. Among the qualities considered were a long-standing active participation in graduate education, distinguished research, success in collaborating on doctoral committees and graduate groups, the ability to attract outstanding doctoral students, and a record of successful doctoral placements.

This year’s winners are: Charles Bosk, professor of sociology and Arthur H. Johnson, professor of earth and environmental science.

Excerpts from the letters in support of the awardees provide a glimpse into the qualities that make for outstanding mentoring:

Charles Bosk
“Chuck has supported and guided my career in several ways.  He is foremost a gentle, sympathetic, and careful listener.  His responses are often brief, but unfailingly illuminating. He has a talent for analyzing questions and concerns and being able to see beyond what the student thinks she needs to know and addressing instead what lies beneath the concern. A few comments from Chuck can transform an apparently immovable research obstacle into a rare opportunity. While it is his years of experience and impressive intelligence that allow him to see to the heart of an issue so consistently, what I have learned from working with him over the years, and what I have tried to emulate in advising my own students is quite simply to listen.” Another writes, “he is an extraordinary teacher and mentor and every graduate student knows that he is the person to turn to when they need support.”
Arthur Johnson
“I met Art while excavating a 45-million year-old fossilized log in the remote polar tundra of the Canadian arctic.  I was an undergraduate at the time... My first conversation with Art occurred while we were driving pickaxes and shovels into the frozen soil. He clued me into the implications of finding a productive redwood forest a stone’s throw away from the north pole, that as global warming becomes an ever-present concern, we need to turn to the past environment to foresee the future ecological consequences. I was instantly struck with the honorable feeling that I was being involved in some highly innovative, cutting-edge research. But the conversation was not confined to science, we also talked about literature, Inuit culture, Canadian beer and how darned cold it was outside.  He was certainly not an academic caught up in the world of his own science, but a true Renaissance mind capable of comprehending all facets of the world. I was hooked. I was in. And thus began a mentorship that continues to my present graduate student career… Art is a nonchalant, easy-going mentor who expects nothing but the most chop-busting, highest-caliber scientific work from his students.”
A reception in honor of Dr. Bosk and Dr. Johnson will be held on Monday, October 9 at 5 p.m. in the Graduate Student Center. Members of the Penn community are invited.
Almanac - September 19, 2006, Volume 53, No. 4