Boston University Recognizes Three Professors for Excellence in Teaching

Contact: Richard Taffe, 617-353-4626 |

(Boston, Mass.) – Boston University at Commencement today bestowed its highest teaching award to Patricia Johnson, an assistant professor of classical studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Professor Johnson has been named the 30th recipient of the Metcalf Cup and Prize, chosen from nearly 3,500 faculty members at the University.

The University also recognized two faculty members as recipients of the Metcalf Awards for Teaching Excellence: Robert L. Devaney, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics; and Ann Howard Jones, a professor in the College of Fine Arts and director of choral activities for its School of Music.

“The Metcalf Awards acknowledge those members of the faculty who excel as teachers,” said Chancellor John Silber. “These awards are a tangible symbol of Boston University’s commitment to scholarship and teaching of the highest quality.”

The Metcalf Cup carries with it a prize of $10,000, and each Metcalf Award winner receives a prize of $5,000. Students, faculty and alumni nominate candidates for the Metcalf Cup and Prize, as well as the Metcalf Awards.

Patricia Johnson

“She has the rare gift of bringing the ‘dead language’ to life,” a student said of Professor Patricia Johnson, and she “makes learning Latin and studying it impossibly fun.” Peers and students laud her as a likeable, passionate, gifted scholar, and a tireless, patient advisor. An innovator seeking to refine and improve the classics curricula at the University, she spearheaded the creation of an extensive Web-based inventory of digital images of the ancient world, available to department faculty.

Winner of the College of Arts and Sciences Gitner Award for distinguished teaching in 2001, Professor Johnson sums up her approach to teaching: “I am infatuated with the classical world and its literatures; I have yet to find a topic in my field that fails to fascinate me in some way, and I attempt to communicate this passion to my students each time we meet.”

Professor Johnson credits her classroom success as an educator to having found the balance between palatability of subject matter – what she calls “entertainment value” – and the rigor needed to master the complex material. She measures that success first by evaluating if students have learned and understood the material well enough to work with it and draw conclusions, and second by whether they have become engaged enough to develop a curiosity about ancient cultural ancestors and a true appreciation of how the contemporary world fits into history. “The students,” she says, “are not graded by this second measure; I am.”

Joining the Boston University Classical Studies faculty in 1996, Professor Johnson previously taught at the College of the Holy Cross, the University of Southern California and Cornell University. She earned bachelor’s in history degree and a master’s in classics from Cornell, and a Ph.D. in classics from the University of Southern California. She now lives in Wellesley, Mass.

Robert L. Devaney

“Rarely does the enthusiasm of any one person reach into so many spheres with such a high level of success,” a former student said of the impact Professor Robert L. Devaney has had on the world of mathematics education over three decades. Classroom lectures at Boston University, more than 1,100 lectures to audiences in all 50 states and six continents, workshops, textbooks, films, and Web sites have been his chosen vehicles to drive home understanding of complex dynamical systems.

Renowned for his pioneering use of technology in teaching, Professor Devaney has directed the National Science Foundation’s Dynamical Systems and Technology Project since 1989, which helps high school and college educators use technology to more effectively teach modern mathematics such as chaos, fractals, and dynamics. In 2002 he was the first mathematician to win the NSF Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars, for contributions to enhancing undergraduate education. He was named teacher of the year by the Mathematical Association of America in 1995.

“Teachers all over the country look to his ideas and innovative use of technology in the classroom to improve their own teaching,” a former student now a college professor said of the teaching software Professor Devaney created and shares with the educational world via his Web site.

On the Boston University faculty since 1980, Professor Devaney earlier taught at Northwestern University, Tufts University and the University of Maryland. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The College of the Holy Cross and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He now lives in Boston.

Ann Howard Jones

“She possesses not only the tools to craft a precise and moving sound, but the wit and intelligence to move a choir to a single purpose, a single sense of a piece,” a student said of Ann Howard Jones. “Her eloquence provides the necessary frame of mind, emotion and concept to produce a brilliant choral sound.”

That sound has been the hallmark of Professor Jones since she joined the Boston University faculty in 1993. A protégée and colleague of the late Robert Shaw, she helped found of all four choirs of the College of Fine Arts, and conducts the University’s Symphonic Chorus, its Chamber Chorus, and the Tanglewood Institute’s chorus. Her recognized expertise in conducting technique, rehearsal procedures and performance practices keeps her in high demand globally as a lecturer and clinician, and as a guest conductor of festival choruses, all-state choruses and honor choruses.

“My hope is that my teaching, both in the classroom and in the concert hall, will transmit my respect for the musical gift of the composer, the musical talents of the performers, and the experience of the audience,” Professor Jones said of her musical mission. “My goal is to make my energy and my enthusiasm for excellent musical performance transparent and contagious.”

Over a career launched after earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Iowa, Professor Jones has taught at universities in seven states, served as a musical emissary to Germany and France, been a Fulbright Fellow to Brazil, held master classes across the country, and led more than 20 all-state choruses. She now lives in Brookline, Mass.