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Professors honored with 2024 George R. Brown awards

Virginia Liu / Thresher

By Viola Hsia     4/9/24 10:53pm

The Center of Teaching Excellence announced the winners of the George R. Brown Teaching Awards. Ten professors were awarded, with nine winning the Superior Teaching Award, and one winning the Excellence in Teaching Award.

According to assistant teaching professor Laura Kabiri, who serves on the University Committee of Teaching, the winners were selected through votes from alumni who graduated from Rice two, three or five years ago. For the 2024 recipients, the classes of 2022, 2021 and 2019 were eligible to vote.

“We would love for every alumnus to participate,” Kabiri wrote in an email to the Thresher. “Your opinions matter and continue to drive these awards which aim to celebrate outstanding faculty and teaching at Rice.”

Betul Orcan-Ekmekci, the Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, said she was honored to receive this award.

“It is a great recognition knowing that my students were also appreciating what I’m trying to do,” Orcan-Ekmekci said. “Being recognized for this is a great feeling.”

Carl Caldwell, a recipient of the Superior Teaching Award, said the award was especially meaningful because it was awarded by recent graduates.

“This is a teaching award based not just on what people might say in a given semester, but also based on what people think afterwards and indicates that maybe I’ve had an effect that goes beyond the class,” Caldwell said. “Whether we’re writing a book that’s also teaching or giving a paper at a conference, or especially in the classroom … to hear that what we’re doing makes a difference, it’s a wonderful feeling.”

Colette Nicolaou, last year’s Excellence in Teaching honoree, said she was moved by how her class could still impact students years later.

“It just blows my mind that there’s something in our time together that stood out to them, and that there is something about the class that they connected with …  that they would even think to check my name off multiple years later,” Nicolaou said. “It’s incredible.” 

Philip Ernst, an adjunct professor of statistics at Rice and a current full-time professor of Statistics at Imperial College of London who received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2022, said that this award was something very special when looking back on his time at Rice. 

“There are many schools in America of the caliber of Rice that say ‘We expect our faculty to be excellent in research and in teaching,’” Ernst said. “Rice is a very special place where that is 100-percent meant literally. These awards are a testament to keeping to the original mission of the school, to be an undergraduate focused institution where teaching is taken into the highest account and the highest level.

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