2004 Metcalf honors go to teachers who inspire by sharing their passions
Marchant, Temkin, and Warren recognized for devotion to students
By Brian Fitzgerald and Tim Stoddard
David Marchant takes students on research expeditions all over the world, from Ireland to New Zealand to Antarctica.
But they know that the CAS associate professor of earth sciences isn’t a tour guide, and the trips aren’t vacations — unless 15-hour workdays (and nights cooped up in small tents) in Antarctica’s Dry Valley, where temperatures can hit 30 degrees below zero, is one’s idea of a pleasure getaway.
His students come to Antarctica to conduct research, and they become so involved in the investigations that they often coauthor his publications on the geological structures of the continent. Their studies of this silent landscape, lying undisturbed for millennia, hold clues to changes in Earth’s climate through the ages. Furthermore, the research provides new insights into similar features on Mars, and evidence suggesting that the Red Planet recently experienced an ice age, according to a paper Marchant published in the journal Nature last December.
Fieldwork aside, Marchant, who received one of this year’s Metcalf Awards, also believes that classroom teaching can spark interest and research. “Rather than witness a reduction in my research, my time in the classroom at BU has ignited an explosion of scientific creativity, fueled by young minds questioning conventional wisdom,” he says. “For me, it is difficult to separate research from teaching. Teaching is fundamental to research, and effective teaching requires ongoing research.”
One of his students reports that he came to BU because of Marchant’s reputation, “but it was his extraordinary ability to instruct and inspire that kept me on my path throughout my degree into my present doctoral work.” Another says that he “has never had a teacher as engaging and captivating as Professor Marchant,” recalling an incident where Marchant, to demonstrate surface area and its effect on weathering, threw chalk at the wall. And another time, to explain the onset of an earthquake, he bent and broke yardsticks. “These spontaneous antics,” the student says, “combined with his passion for the subject, and ability to relate it to his students, are what made Professor Marchant’s class the best I’ve taken so far at this University.”
Marchant was academic advisor for a master’s student who says that when she entered BU she envisioned a career in scientific research. “Working side-by-side with such an excellent role model led me to seek a different path — education,” she says. “Dave has a rare mix of passion for both teaching and research, and he excels in both.”
Marchant “is a teacher who instills in students at all levels both understanding and awe for the dynamics of our planet’s climate, and who also receives, to an uncommon degree, their fervent admiration as a person,” says Dean of Arts and Sciences Jeffrey Henderson. “Students appreciate his care to achieve an ideal integration of the latest in scientific results with an approachable delivery. And this requires not only classroom prowess, but also an open door to students, including those with extra interests and many who seek him out for advice not directly related to the work of the course.”
On the Boston University faculty since 1995, Marchant earned a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, a master’s degree from the University of Maine, and a Ph.D. in geomorphology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In 1999 he was awarded the W. S. Bruce Medal by the Royal Society of Edinburgh for his geological research in Antarctica.
Active processing for lifelong learning
It would be challenging enough to convey the complexities of cryptology and computational theory to bright-eyed, well-rested students. But when Anatoly Temkin begins his evening Metropolitan College computer science seminars, most of his students have just finished a full workday and are fighting off fatigue. “Without the students’ attention,” he says, “any active processing of new information is impossible. The best, if not the only, way to achieve this is to have students engaged in the learning process by making it interesting and exciting.”
Temkin, a MET assistant professor of computer science, and winner of a 2004 Metcalf Award, engages his students by enlivening otherwise soporific material. Students praise his meticulous preparation for each class, his uncanny knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, his thorough and fair evaluation of their work, and his sense of humor. “It is not just the academic content that attracts students to Anatoly’s classes,” writes a MET colleague. “His classes are fun: formulas follow the evolution of ideas, stories about mathematical discovery relate to career advice, and the student is always aware of the teacher’s care for him or her as a person and a professional.”
“Dr. Temkin stimulates the intellectual curiosity of students who must pursue their degrees part-time, work full-time in a depressed IT sector, and care for their families,” writes MET Dean Jay Halfond. “His reputation as a teacher and advisor is a major recruiting asset to the college.”
Temkin faces the additional challenge of engaging students with diverse academic and professional backgrounds. “Some students will have 10 or more years of programming experience and others will have no work experience at all,” he says. “The same classroom will have students whose undergraduate degrees are in mathematics, computer science, music, political science, and psychology. Understanding their backgrounds, cultural diversity, and learning patterns helps me to be a better teacher. It allows me to tailor my presentation so that interest and attention are maximized without compromising the subject material.”
Students appreciate that level of personalized attention. “I have never rated an instructor this high,” writes one student. “I have actually improved my overall thinking process from Temkin’s teaching.” Another student writes that Temkin’s reputation as a powerful teacher has increased the demand for his classes: “a very simple proof of his excellence in teaching is that his classes are the hardest to get into.”
The Russian-born Temkin earned his master’s degree from Moscow University, and received a Ph.D. from Kazan University in Russia. He taught at the Moscow Institute of Electronics and Computer Engineering before coming to the United States in 1987. He has taught undergraduate and graduate computer science courses at MET since 1989, and was a CGS assistant professor of mathematics from 1990 to 1994. In addition to his MET course load, Temkin taught undergraduate mathematics courses in Massachusetts prisons from 1997 to 2000 through BU’s Prison Education Program.
While Temkin’s students come from a range of backgrounds — from graduate students to midcareer executives to prison inmates — his goal is to equip each of them with the tools to teach themselves beyond Metropolitan College. “It is not simply mechanical skills that interest me,” he says, “but the logic behind the process of solving problems. In my opinion, this type of teaching provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary for their individual lifelong learning.”
Close reading, broader views
To Rosanna Warren, teaching literature is just one tributary of what she calls “a single circulatory system of imagination” that includes her own literary criticism and writing of poetry. A celebrated poet, critic, editor, translator, and biographer, Warren is also an inspired and inspiring teacher. “She asks questions that lead us to insight,” says one student, “without forcing our thoughts to her conclusions. When we are correct, she is generous with praise. When we err, she corrects us in such a way that we gain needed instruction without the least element of humiliation.”
Warren, the Emma Ann MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities, a University Professor, a professor of modern foreign languages and literatures, and a 2004 Metcalf Award winner, teaches across the humanities, from freshman courses on the epic tradition to senior seminars on French poetry to graduate poetry workshops. In all her courses, she says, observation is key to analysis and interpretation. “I ask students to imagine that they are doing fieldwork in botany,” she says. “They are to describe the formal features of the literary work as precisely as possible. I have come to revere the obvious as a source of revelation, and I urge my students not to shy away from the obvious, but to mine it for what strangeness it can deliver.”
Known for her spontaneous classroom performances, she can quote with ease Virgil and Horace in Latin and then immediately translate to English. Her French and Italian are fluent, and “weak but serviceable” is how she describes her ancient Greek and Latin. “One gets the sense that she lives reflexively with poetry,” writes a former student, “the way that Alexander the Great is said to have slept with a copy of the Iliad beneath his pillow.”
Students in Warren’s classes are expected to memorize and recite poetry, an old-fashioned practice that she says helps them “absorb patterns of the art into their own most intimate patterns of consciousness. It is from such absorption, I believe, that powerful critical and creative thought arises.”
If Warren’s students are botanists, they are also archaeologists. In addition to closely reading texts, her classes also explore the historical factors shaping a particular piece. “I introduce students to debates, conflicts, and complexities surrounding and in some cases giving rise to the literary works they read,” she says. “In this way, the development of poetic forms doesn’t appear preordained, but takes on color and urgency from the struggles that helped to shape them.”
For many students, their close reading in Warren’s class carries over outside of the classroom, effecting a broader self-awareness. “There are very few writers and teachers who do as much as she does, every day, to ensure that young writers understand their debt to international literary culture,” says a former student. “In these turbulent political times, I especially appreciate that Professor Warren tried to make me understand the connection between writing and the larger world.”
With a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s from Johns Hopkins University, Warren joined the Boston University faculty in 1982 after teaching at Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt Universities. Among her awards are the National Discovery Award in poetry, the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award for Poetry.
“Rosanna is a brilliant lecturer,” writes Sir Hans Kornberg, a UNI professor and director of the University Professors Program, “whose infectious enthusiasm leaves the audience with the impression that her topic is the most important ingredient of contemporary culture and that all who hear her need immediately to rush to the library, to read the material she has just discussed. It is truly a blessing to UNI that she is on our teaching faculty.”