BU Today


Celebrating the Love of Law, the Power of Music, the Meaning of Life Science

Beatty, Bitzas, and Widmaier are 2007 Metcalf honorees

Roll over the images above to hear this year’s winners — (from left) Jeffrey Beatty, Eric Widmaier, and Penelope Bitzas — talk about teaching.

The Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching is Boston University’s highest teaching honor, and the Metcalf Awards, recognizing skilled and engaging faculty members, are a comparable reward for excellence. Established in 1973 by a gift from the late Arthur G. B. Metcalf (SED’35, Hon.’74), a former faculty member and chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees, and presented at Commencement, the awards are a ceremonious public expression of gratitude to the teachers students regard as the defining figures of their academic careers. The Metcalf Cup comes with a prize of $10,000, and the Metcalf Awards with $5,000.

A committee of five previous winners and two undergraduates selects the winners, weighing factors such as statements of pedagogy from the nominees and observing their teaching by sitting in on their classes. The letters of recommendation from current and former students also are key, drawing readers into the classroom to experience the professors’ energy and enthusiasm.

This year’s Metcalf Cup and Prize recipient is Jeffrey Beatty, a School of Management associate professor of strategy and policy, and the Metcalf Award winners are Penelope Bitzas, a College of Fine Arts school of music associate professor of voice, and Eric Widmaier, a College of Arts and Sciences professor and chair of biology.

Jeffrey Beatty, associate professor of strategy and policy, School of Management

In 18 years at Boston University — preceded by decades of private legal practice — Jeffrey Beatty has learned to think of his students not as judges, but as the jury.

“Courtroom work is always contentious, antagonistic, and relatively aggressive, so you use a style that would be very inappropriate in a classroom,” he says. “But when you’re talking to a jury, you have to be sure you’re communicating effectively. You’ve got to pay attention to your audience, to see that they are still with you and that they are understanding you. The signals may not be verbal; they may be visual clues. And that’s very, very important in the classroom.”

Students say that Beatty works hard to engage them, staging scripted in-class discussions to demonstrate legal principles at work or simply staying after class to help them with their own problems or concerns. “Professor Beatty’s commitment to his students can be seen both inside and outside the classroom,” writes Michael Younis (SMG’09). “Whether he is standing on the muddy banks of the Charles cheering on … a member of the crew team or holding office hours all night to answer the seemingly endless stream of questions about the next day’s exam, Professor Beatty continues to show his love of teaching and learning.”

Penelope Bitzas, associate professor of voice, CFA School of Music

Penelope Bitzas has been an educator since she was eight years old. Back then, she would gather all the kids in the neighborhood in her front yard on Saturday mornings and teach them to sing.

“I think music is great,” Bitzas says simply. “I think vocal music is great. I think orchestral music is great. I think choirs are great. I think music has this power and healing force that’s bigger than anyone can imagine, and I hope everyone keeps music in their lives.”

Bitzas has an obvious passion for her craft, but she also has a strong desire to be a mentor — like the ones she had — to her students and an understanding that each student learns a little bit differently.

“That’s the fun part for me,” she says. “I have to figure out if this student is a cognitive learner or if that student is a kinesthetic learner, and sometimes I have to completely change how I think and process information.”

Many of her former students appreciate her approach.

“Dealing with students on such a personal level is an art,” says Maria D’Amato (CFA’01). “[Professor Bitzas] used accessible imagery to get the optimal sounds from her students. She was able to translate her vast pedagogical knowledge into a language that her students understood and could relate to.”

Eric Widmaier, professor of biology, College of Arts and Sciences

Eric Widmaier models his mentoring on a biology professor he had as an undergraduate at Northwestern University.

“She took a great deal of time mentoring us one-on-one,” says Widmaier. “She spent a great deal of time making sure we understood what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it fit into the bigger picture of science.” Since coming to BU in 1988, Widmaier has taught human and animal physiology and endocrinology, and the current and former students who wrote to recommend him for a Metcalf Award repeatedly cited the clarity and context of his lectures and his openness to student questions, both in and out of the classroom.

“At the end of each lecture, he would bring us to some new conclusion,” writes one student, “often relating things from past lectures into what he had just taught.” Adds another, “His ability to explain information is phenomenal.” Many mention Widmaier’s use of analogies in his teaching, citing, for example, an encounter between a man and a wild bear to demonstrate the hormonal “fight or flight” response.

“He teaches material he has known for years, yet has the enthusiasm as if he is only learning it for the first time,” Karishma Shah (CAS’07) writes. “It’s almost impossible not to love a class when the professor is as zealous about the topic as [Professor] Widmaier is.”

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu. Nicole Laskowski can be reached at nicolel@bu.edu. Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.