Meet BU Historian and CISS Affiliate, Alexis Peri, Winner of a 2024 Metcalf Award

This article, by BU Today staff, originally appeared in BU Today on May 1, 2024.  

Introducing the Winners of the 2024 Metcalf Awards, BU’s Top Teaching Honors

Professors from SPH and CAS recognized for mentoring and encouraging students to build critical thinking skills and friendships

Created in 1973, the Metcalf Cup and Prize and the Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching are a gift from the late Arthur G. B. Metcalf (Wheelock’35, Hon.’74), a BU Board of Trustees chair emeritus and a former professor. The program gives $10,000 to the Cup and Prize winner and $5,000 each to the Metcalf Award winners. A University committee selects winners based on statements of the nominees’ teaching philosophy, supporting letters from colleagues and students, and classroom observations of the nominees.

Yuri Corrigan, College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of Russian and comparative literature

For Corrigan, teaching literature is an opportunity to break through the noise of TikTok, the 24/7 news cycle, and texting. He says his ultimate goal is to “cultivate long-term skills”—to encourage his students to be better writers and thinkers and “to foster moral and intellectual infrastructures for their daily lives.”

Veronika Wirtz, School of Public Health professor of global health

During her grad school training at the University of London, Wirtz says, she had fantastic mentors who pointed her in career directions she hadn’t considered before. She strives to do the same today for her School of Public Health students through engaging classes incorporating tabletop exercises and lively discussion, visits from professionals working in the field, and thoughtful mentoring.

Alexis Peri, CAS associate professor of history

Peri, a historian who focuses on modern Russia and Eastern Europe (especially the Soviet period), says that when she started teaching, she was hyper-focused on ensuring her students memorized the content. But after teaching for more than 15 years, she says, she is “much more interested in seeing how students grow in their confidence and their ability to write and analyze.”

The Metcalf nominating committee says Peri’s creative assignments are one of the hallmarks of her teaching. One of her assignments challenged students to write fictional dating and social media profiles for famous historical figures, like Catherine the Great. In her Experiencing Total War class, Peri has the students form a historical character living through both World War I and World War II and then write installments of the person’s life, thinking about how the two wars would shape the way that person grew and developed through the decades. This semester, to help her students keep track of the timeline of President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, Peri told her students to write the Russian dictator’s résumé.

“We talked about what skills he would list as well as what things he might want to conceal on his résumé,” Peri says. “It was a more fun approach that yielded greater intellectual results and more thinking as a result.” She thinks creative work is one of the best ways to engage all aspects of a student’s intelligence and experience, she says, and it can be deceptively challenging, requiring a deeper level of thinking than memorization.

“Alexis is known among her students as an ‘engaging and thoughtful facilitator’ with a sensitive approach to heavy themes that helps students feel comfortable sharing ideas and learning together how to craft questions, hone research skills, and adapt to information and feedback,” her nomination letter says. “Many students shared that their writing skills transformed with her guidance.”

Peri says she approaches teaching the same way she works and writes as a historian—by telling stories and reconstructing not just what the world looked like and the events that happened, but also how it felt and why people reacted to it the way they did.

“Once students connect to a story or a storyteller, then that opens up all of these possibilities for greater empathy with those who came before us and opens up a lot of possibilities for deeper understanding and appreciation,” she says. “It can also give them the ability to criticize and condemn on a more thoughtful level. So I think that there are all kinds of ways that reckoning with the past makes us more effective citizens and more effective people.”