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Seven Exceptional Pomona College Faculty Members Voted Wig Professors by Students

Pomona College Professors Deborah M. Burke, Karl G. Johnson, Fernando A. Lozano, Daniel J. O’Leary, Shahriar Shahriari, Michael D. Steinberger and Helena Wall have received the 2008 Wig Distinguished Professor Awards for Excellence in Teaching, by a vote of students at the College. The Award recognizes exceptional teaching, concern for students and service to the College and community.

The recipients of the Wig Awards are elected by the junior and senior classes and then confirmed by a committee of trustees, faculty and students. The awards were announced at Pomona's 115th Commencement held on May 18, 2008. They were established by Mr. and Mrs. R.J. Wig in 1955.

Deborah M. Burke, who became a member of the Pomona faculty in 1977, is the W.M. Keck Distinguished Service Professor and a professor of linguistics & cognitive science and psychology. She teaches Introduction to Psychology, Introduction to Cognitive Science, Memory & Language with Laboratory, and the Seminar on Language, Memory and the Brain. This is her fifth Wig Award.

Student comments include:

  • Her excellence in research and desire to help students opens up new possibilities. She's a pleasure to have as an advisor.
  • Prof. Burke's knowledge and expertise in her field is amazing, and I was always impressed in class with how approachably she presented topics. As an advisor, she has been extremely helpful.
  • Witty, great attitude, not afraid to get in a heated debate!
  • Professor Burke is truly one of the great professors at Pomona. Not only are her classes interesting and challenging, but her desire for students to learn and grasp the material is unparalleled.

In her research, Burke focuses on the cognitive and neural processes involved in language and how these processes change with aging, with an emphasis on failures of language production such as tip of the tongue experiences. In 2007, she co-authored a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that identified for the first time the neural basis for word-finding failures. She earned her B.A. from Barnard College and her Ph.D. and Columbia University.

Karl G. Johnson, the Sarah Rempel and Herbert S. Rempel Professor of Neuroscience and assistant professor of biology, joined Pomona in 2005 and teaches Cell Chemistry and Cell Biology, and Vertebrate Sensory Systems with Laboratory.

Student comments include:

  • Professor Johnson is one of the best lecturers I have ever met. Even with difficult subjects, he is able to make the material accessible and keeps the class lively and entertaining.
  • I found [his] course to be very challenging but also enjoyed the fact that his teaching style instilled so much information while being manageable.
  • A role model, both as a colleague and as a friend. The sense of humor doesn't hurt either.
  • His enthusiasm, preparedness and humor make lecture and discussion interesting and challenging. Outside of the classroom, Professor Johnson's open office door and willingness to help have rightfully earned him a reputation as a supportive, knowledgeable and thoughtful mentor.

In his research, Johnson focuses on understanding how developing neurons find and make their appropriate synaptic connections in the developing Drosophila central nervous system. He is currently examining the roles of cell surface proteoglycans in axon guidance and synapse formation. He earned his B.A. from Grinnell College, his M.S. from UC San Diego and his Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

Fernando A. Lozano, assistant professor of economics, joined Pomona in 2004 and teaches Economic Statistics, Introduction to Empirical Methods Economics, Principles: Microeconomics, and Urban and Regional Economics.

Student comments include:

  • Professor Lozano has done more than anyone I know to get people excited about the field of economics.
  • Very engaging. Makes 8 a.m. Microeconomics class worth waking up for. Extremely helpful outside of class. He is passionate about making sure that students learn. …Teaching is clearly his primary focus. Also very actively involved in the campus community.
  • In addition to being a great teacher, Professor Lozano is unusually devoted to his students. He is always willing to meet outside of class (regardless of his office hours), and in my personal experience, he has been a wonderful source of advice.

Lozano is currently researching the impact of the soccer World Cup on the American labor market. More generally, Lozano’s research interests have included labor markets, immigration, Hispanics in the U.S. economy, and the education of Hispanics in the U.S. He received his B.A. from the University of San Diego and his M.A. and Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara.

Prof. of Chemistry Daniel J. O’Leary, a member of the faculty since 1994, teaches Organic Chemistry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. This is his third Wig Award.

Student comments include:

  • Professor O'Leary kept Organic Chemistry intelligible and even entertaining at 8 a.m.--quite a feat!
  • I actually looked forward to Ochem lecture at 800AM on Monday. Thanks, Prof. O’Leary.
  • He has an infectious interest in chemistry that one can't help but join him in. He's extremely approachable outside of class…and [he has] the ability to manage that gigantic Organic Chemistry class in a way that feels as personal as any of the smaller classes at Pomona is just amazing.
  • Professor O'Leary is an amazing teacher, mentor and person! He bettered my Pomona experience in priceless ways.
  • O'Leary is one of those people who make you want to be a scientist.

An organic chemist, O’Leary is interested in developing new methods for determining the solution conformation of molecules. He received his B.A. degrees from Linfield College and his Ph.D. from UCLA.

Shahriar Shahriari, a member of the faculty since 1989, is a professor of mathematics. He teaches Abstract Algebra, Combinatorics, Deterministic Operations Research, Honors Topics in Calculus, Linear Algebra and a Seminar in Mathematical Exposition. This is his third Wig Award.

Student Comments include:

  • Professor Shahriari has mastered the art of teaching. I'm not exactly sure how he does it, but he waves his hands around in the air, and then the student understands complex material that he never forgets.
  • His Honors Topics in Calculus II course is amazing, simply because it manages to provide an introductory math course that truly exposes the fledgling math student to some of the truly interesting topics in Maths.
  • Enthusiastic, caring, inspires a love for pure math.

Shahriari researches on chain partitions and cutsets of Boolean Lattices and other partially ordered sets. He earned his B.A. from Oberlin College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.

Assistant Professor of Economics Michael D. Steinberger, a member of the Pomona faculty since 2004, teaches Labor Economics, Macroeconomic Theory, Poverty and Income Distribution, and Senior Seminar in Economics.

Student comments include:

  • Macro Theory was the hardest class I've ever taken, and the most rewarding. …He made me work harder than I ever thought I could. He forced us to really work with the models and really learn them, not just how to use them. This was truly a class that changed my life.
  • His teaching, quality of assignments and concern for individual students are unmatched.
  • He is an excellent professor and also an inspirational mentor and friend.
  • Professor Steinberger's Macroeconomic Theory course was an unforgettable experience. … the large majority of what I know off the top of my head about economics comes from his lectures.
  • One of the best teachers and role models I have ever had. He challenges and engages students.

Steinberger’s research interests range from bankruptcy, income inequality and wage dispersion, to local government taxation and expenditures and returns to education. He earned his B.A. degrees from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. degree from MIT.

Helena Wall, the Warren Finney Day Professor of History and director of the Hart institute for American History, has been a member of the faculty since 1984. She teaches Culture of Early America; Doing History; History/Biography/Autobiography; Revolutionary America, 1750-1800; The American Political Tradition; and U.S. Colonial Era to the Gilded Age.

Student comments include:

  • Professor Wall combines true passion and a sharp wit with a staggering grasp of the subject matter. Her classes force her students to fully engage the material on every level. Outside of the classroom, she offers accessible and friendly guidance to her students.
  • Prof. Wall is a uniquely skilled discussion leader. She was the first professor who made me feel comfortable participating in class.
  • Her intelligence, passion and spirit are wonderful!
  • Professors like Professor Wall are the reason why I came to Pomona: she reinforces my fascination with history and enjoyment of learning.

Wall focuses her research on the history of colonial America, with special interest in social history and society’s responsiveness to the precariousness of life at that time. She earned her B.A. from Brandeis University and her A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, offers a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research. Pomona College is one of only a handful of schools that has need-blind admissions and meets the full financial need of each accepted student.