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The ABCs of excellence

What Metcalf winners have learned about teaching

Abdulmaged Traish, Professor of Urology, School of Medicine

It’s no wonder students nicknamed Abdulmaged M. Traish “the Electric Slide.” Whether he’s teaching biochemistry to graduate students or talking about hormone action to medical students, the professor of urology is constantly in motion.

Abdulmaged Traish

“Dr. Traish is a blend of Einstein, Picasso, and Oprah,” wrote one former student to the Metcalf committee. “His enthusiasm, commitment, native intelligence, high energy, leadership, and empathy make Dr. Traish a wonderful role model, mentor, and respected friend.”

Traish, who earned his doctorate from BU’s department of biochemistry in 1978, doesn’t just maintain a heavy teaching load; he also hosts informal discussion sections with students on weekends and serves on thesis, admissions, and student recruitment committees. And all this hasn’t slowed down his research. So far in his career, Traish has authored 138 peer-reviewed papers and received $3 million in peer-reviewed grants.

For these high standards and enthusiasm, which Traish passes on to his students, Boston University has awarded him the 2006 Metcalf Cup, an honor that includes a prize of $10,000. Click here to listen as Traish discusses how his teaching and his research support one another and explains the proper role of technology in the classroom.

Peter Hawkins, Professor of Religion, College of Arts and Sciences

In his nearly six years at Boston University, Peter Hawkins has learned that the key to his students’ hearts and minds lies in the Espresso Royale café.   In nominating Hawkins for a Metcalf Award, his former students talked about his eloquence, his patience, his “palpable” love of teaching—and the many enjoyable hours they spent discussing Dante over cappuccinos in BU’s neighborhood coffee shop.

Peter Hawkins

The practice exemplifies one of Hawkins’s three principles of good teaching: “It must be about us.” That is, he endeavors to create in his classroom a community where everyone feels comfortable pushing academic boundaries and taking risks. His course on Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Dante’s Journey,” inspired one student to select him as a personal muse: “Professor Hawkins,” the student wrote, “you are my Beatrice.”

Educated at the University of Wisconsin, the Union Theological Seminary, and Yale Divinity School, Hawkins—a winner of the 2006 Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, with a prize of $5,000—still credits his first-grade teacher for the enthusiasm and abilities she brought to his education. Click here to listen to his memories of his first great teacher.

John “Jack” T. Matthews, Professor of English

John “Jack” T. Matthews, professor of English, reminds students that William Faulkner believed that you couldn’t teach a person to become a writer.

Jack Matthews

Matthews holds that “the best teaching involves stimulating such passion that under your guidance students begin to conduct their own education.” Which he does with evident success. And so Matthews has won the 2006 Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, along with its prize of $5,000.

Around the English Department, Matthews is known for tackling progressively challenging material, such as his development of a graduate-level class in literary criticism. This scholar earned his B.A. (1971) at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.A. (1974) and Ph.D. (1976)  at Johns Hopkins University.

Many students at Boston University say that Matthews has inspired them to pursue their own careers in teaching and literature. “What I appreciate most,” says one student, “is his extraordinary sensitivity to my ideas, which he attempts to understand as precisely as possible; he never alters them, even minutely, to match his own sensibilities.”

Click here to hear Matthews talk about one of his most inspirational professors.