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Students Honored for Pedagogical Achievement

Left to right: Justin Pombrio, Ian Russell, Sarah Kaptur. Not pictured: Jonathan Lande.Left to right: Justin Pombrio, Ian Russell, Sarah Kaptur. Not pictured: Jonathan Lande.Four graduate students received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching at the University Awards Ceremony on April 30: Sarah Kaptur (Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry), Jonathan Lande (History), Justin Pombrio (Computer Science), and Ian Russell (Hispanic Studies).

“Winning this award is an enormous delight for me because it recognizes an aspects of my work at Brown for which I’m very proud,” says Russell.

“The recognition of the work I put into educating and guiding students encourages me to continue improving my abilities as a teacher,” says Lande.

All four students received glowing recommendations from their advisors, directors of graduate students, and students.

More about the winners 

Sarah Kaptur says she particularly enjoyed teaching an Inquiry to Biochemistry class because “I was consistently able to draw connections between theory and practice in Biochemistry. The course equips and empowers students to go beyond a memorization-based understanding of biochemistry to instead answer real world research questions.”

Her students shared the following sentiments, “She is undoubtedly the most effective, talented, and passionate teaching assistant I have ever had the pleasure of learning from” and “She was able to explain concepts and procedures that were difficult to us, and did so in a way that was not only effective, but that encouraged our own independent thinking and problem solving.”

When not assisting Biochemistry students, Kaptur studies the role of the huntingtin protein, the causative agent of Huntington’s Disease, in RNA localization.

Jonathan Lande is currently finishing a teaching fellowship at Tougaloo College. He describes his year in Jackson, Mississippi as extremely gratifying because it allowed him “the opportunity to work with many students for the entire year and to engage in rich discussions and even take students on trips to the Civil War battlefield in Vicksburg and to the blues museum in the Mississippi Delta.”

One student shares, “Without fail, Jonathan handled even the most fraught classroom discussions with the sensitivity necessary to support respectful dialogue and communicate the impact of America’s legal history on present day struggles for human rights and social justice.”

His dissertation examines thousands of formerly enslaved men serving in the military who rebelled against the U.S. Army during the Civil War and reveals the struggles of black soldiers and their families during the process of emancipation.

After graduating, Jonathan will do a one-year postdoc jointly offered at the New York Historical Society and the New School and then start as an Assistant Professor at Weber State University.

Justin Pombrio’s nominators laud not only his teaching abilities, but also his pedagogic contributions and ability in helping to create a new way of teaching technical material. Justin, along with his advisor, Professor of Computer Science, Shriram Krishnamurthi, is responsible for a significant pedagogic innovation that has already received recognition from other universities around the world. Pombrio’s contributions on this new teaching method were voluntary and outside the scope of his TA duties.

The students he taught also praise Pombrio. One student shares, “Justin is able to teach the material and help a student arrive at the answer without giving it away. I always left his hours more confident on the material with better code.”

Pombio recently successfully defended his research on Resugaring: Lifting Languages through Syntactic Sugar. His goal was to find ways to improve how languages deal with syntactic sugar (e.g., macros).

Ian Russell has been an instructor for a breadth of courses at Brown, including Medical Spanish at the Alpert Medical School and three semesters each of language and literature and culture. He is also teaching his own advanced class this spring, a 700-level course titled, Transatlantic Crossing: Reading in Hispanic Literature.

“It has been really wonderful to teach and learn more about texts from the history of Spanish and Latin American literature with an incredible group of Brown undergraduates,” says Russell.

His nominators praise his ability to make the classroom interactive and engage all students with a variety of learning styles and help students create personal connections to the subject matter.

One of Russell’s medical students shares, “Ian made each one of us feel comfortable and ensured that everyone was able to learn effectively. His pedagogical approach for teaching language to intermediate learners is remarkable and one of the best I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.”

Russell’s dissertation explores imaginations of community and belonging by queer and marginalized authors in twentieth-century Spain and the Caribbean.