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Eight Pomona College Professors Recognized with Wig Excellence in Teaching Awards

From left: Valorie Thomas, Cristina Negritto, Robert Gaines, Kenneth Wolf, Michael Steinberger, Daniel O'Leary, Char Miller and Shahriar Shahriari

From left: Valorie Thomas, Cristina Negritto, Robert Gaines, Kenneth Wolf, Michael Steinberger, Daniel O'Leary, Char Miller and Shahriar Shahriari

Pomona College Professors Robert R. Gaines, Char Miller, M. Cristina Negritto, Daniel J. O'Leary, Shahriar Shahriari, Michael D. Steinberger, Valorie D. Thomas and Kenneth B. Wolf have received the 2013 Wig Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award is the highest honor bestowed on Pomona faculty and recognizes exceptional teaching, concern for students and service to the College and the community.

The recipients of the Wig Award 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 120th Commencement, held on May 19, 2013. They were established by Mr. and Mrs. R.J. Wig in 1955.

Robert R. Gaines, associate professor of geology, joined the Pomona faculty in 2004 and teaches Introduction to Geology, Earth History, Climate Change, and Sedimentology. This is his second Wig Award.

Student comments included:

• Bob is one of the most engaging lecturers I have ever had the privilege of taking a class with. He clearly puts effort into preparing his classes. He is also incredibly friendly and fun to be around! Knowledgeable and caring, great to talk to about all aspects of rocks and life.

• After having 4 semesters of class with Bob, I can still say I have never had a boring class. His lectures are that interesting and engaging, and his passion for the subjects he teaches is translated to his audience. He has also led some amazing field trips, and understands the value of learning outside of the classroom.

• His guidance in research and his ability to let students run free with the ideas that inspire them makes him an excellent advisor.

• When I think about the things I am thankful for about choosing Pomona over other colleges, Bob and the geology department rank very highly.

Gaines’ research focuses on the Cambrian Explosion, the flowering of complex life on Earth during the Late Neoproterozoic and Cambrian Periods. He earned his B.S. from the College of William and Mary, M.S. from the University of Cincinnati, and Ph.D. from UC Riverside.

Char Miller, the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis, joined the College in 2007 and teaches Nature, Culture and Society; Cities by Nature: Time, Space, Place; U.S. Environmental History; Water in the West; and Crisis Management: Public Lands and American Culture.

Student Comments include:

• Hands down the most supportive faculty member I know. He is an engaging speaker and infinitely curious about students and their work. He's like a counselor, professor, and friend rolled up into one.

• Makes students more engaged to learn because he himself is so passionate about the material. Both humble and extraordinarily knowledgeable.

• My favorite class moments have been in discussions in his class that he effectively pushes forward, encouraging each individual to consider and defend their statement and creating an intellectually stimulating and fun class environment…. Outside the classroom, he is a phenomenal advisor.

• He facilitates discussion like no other professor I have ever had. He has an incredible ability to listen to students and prompt greater depth of thought and writing. He has been an irreplaceable resource and source of support during my four years at Pomona as an EA major.

• Char's enthusiasm and care for every student is inspiring.

Miller focuses his research on environmental history, politics and policy including public lands management, urban history and cultural history. He earned his B.A. from Pitzer College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University.

M. Cristina Negritto, assistant professor of molecular biology, has been with Pomona College since 2001 and teaches Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of DNA Repair, Human Diseases with Defective Genome Maintenance Mechanisms, and the Molecular Biology Laboratory.

Student comments include:

• Professor Negritto is truly dedicated to her students. Not only does she effectively teach essential research techniques and strategies for understanding scientific journal articles, but she is also willing to provide one-on-one help at almost any time.

• Amazing professor, very enthusiastic and fond of students.

• Professor Negritto is friendly, approachable, and always helpful. We have no problem joking with her during class, which turns an ordinarily exhausting lab into a fun bonding time.

• The Wig award is a great way to acknowledge her hard work and her fun, collaborative teaching style.

In her research, Negritto examines genome maintenance mechanisms, in particular DNA recombination between short homologous sequences and how it can affect genome instability. She earned her Licenciada from the Universidad de Buenos Aires and her Ph.D. from the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope National Medical Center.

Daniel J. O'Leary, the Carnegie Professor of Chemistry, joined the faculty in 1994 and teaches Organic Chemistry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. This is his fourth Wig Award.

Student comments include:

• Professor O'Leary is a gifted lecturer and makes a daunting subject matter (organic chemistry) accessible and fun! His witty emails listing topics to be discussed the following lecture were also a highlight.

• I have never had a professor who cared so much about teaching his students than Professor O'Leary. In every class, it was obvious that his main goal in life is to make his students know organic chemistry, not for the test, but for life.

• Professor O'Leary has been an extremely helpful advisor, a kind mentor, and an amazing professor. While his organic chemistry class turned me on to chemistry as a field of study, his passion for the subject was infectious.

• His lectures are captivating, he challenges his students, he creates a great learning environment, and he is always available for help or a good conversation. He really cares about his students, and it shows.

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

Shahriar Shahriari, the William Polk Russell Professor of Mathematics, joined the faculty in 1989. He teaches Abstract Algebra, Combinatorics, Deterministic Operations Research, Honors Topics in Calculus, Linear Algebra and a Seminar in Mathematical Exposition. This is his fourth Wig Award.

Student comments include:

• One of the most inspiring professors I have ever had and an amazing human being as well. He gave me the confidence to become a math major, something I sorely lacked as a freshman. Professor Shahriari's door is always open.

• Professor Shahriari does an excellent job of explaining complex, abstract mathematics topics to students who have no background in linear algebra. He uses fun analogies (fat tomatoes!) to explain concepts to students, which made lectures more fun and easier to understand. He expects a lot of his students, but gives them the tools to succeed in the class.

• He turned me, a devout student of the humanities, into a bona fide math student. I took his class as a freshman with the intention of getting my Area requirement out of the way and quitting math forever, but his electrifying presence in the classroom activated my child-like curiosity and revealed my passion for the catharsis of solving a difficult problem.

• Best math teacher at the Claremont Colleges. Period.

Shahriari focuses his research 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.

Michael D. Steinberger, an associate professor of economics, has been a member of the Pomona faculty since 2004, teaches Labor Economics, Macroeconomic Theory and Poverty and Income Distribution. This is his second Wig Award.

Student comments include:

• His teaching method is unique; it pushes, confuses, clarifies, and above all is always fair. He makes his courses come to life by connecting theory to real and close-to-home examples.

• Truly cares about teaching and does a fantastic job of breaking down concepts, conveying ideas, relating material to larger picture (both of the course and the outside world), and helping students outside of class.

• Very passionate about the subjects he teaches, and about teaching.

• Professor Steinberger does a great job of connecting what we're learning in class to current events, which has been especially exciting lately because of how prominent macroeconomics is in the news. Another great thing…is that he encourages students to learn the material in a way that they could explain it to their roommates or even their grandma. This is a great way to learn because you do not truly understand something until you can explain it to a layman.

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. from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. from MIT.

Valorie D. Thomas, an associate professor of English and Africana Studies, joined the Pomona faculty in 1998. She teaches the classes Contemporary Native American Literature; Introduction to Literary Interpretation: Postcolonial Literatures in English; AfroFuturism; Introduction to African American Literature, 18th and 19th Century; Special Topics in 20th Century African Diaspora Literature: Healing Narratives; Literature of Incarceration; and Toni Morrison.

Student comments include:

• Professor Thomas's classes have completely transformed the way I understand the world. She is brilliant and inspirational on many different levels.

• Prof. Thomas is an amazing professor. Her classes have been empowering, eye-opening, and extremely engaging. I especially appreciate the way she interacts with students and her profound impromptu mini-lectures

• Prof. Thomas' Healing Narratives class (Fall 2012) was one of the best classes I've ever taken at Pomona. Prof. Thomas' passion for the subject matter and sincere engagement with us as her students enabled me to really open up and grow, both personally and scholastically, during her class.

• Professor Thomas' class has challenged me to think the most critically and creatively in a supportive environment. The way she facilitates discussions and fosters positive dynamics in class is masterful: she has a way of reframing difficult questions and synthesizing different students' input into analytically rigorous, open questions that I continue to think about after the semester has ended.

Thomas’ research spans African diasporic literary and cultural theory, indigenous spirituality as decolonizing practice, vernacular culture and language, and contemporary Native American literature. She earned her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from UC Berkeley and received an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA Film  School.

Kenneth B. Wolf, the John Sutton Miner Professor of Classics and History, has been a member of the faculty since 1985. He teaches the courses the Earliest Christian Views of Islam, Heresy and Church, Holy War in Early Christianity and Islam, Medieval Europe and the World Outside, Medieval Spain: Convivencia?, Saints and Poverty, and The Medieval Mediterranean. This is his fifth Wig Award.

Student comments include:

• Professor Wolf is the one of the most engaging teachers I've ever had. He turns classes into story times that link key themes together, challenge us to reshape our understanding of the past and never fails to make us laugh.

• Wolf is an exceptional professor, scholar, and human. His passion for teaching is exceeded only by his competency at doing so--his Heresy and Church seminar taught me more than any other class I've taken at Pomona.

• Professor Wolf is incredible! Not only has he has greatly improved my reading and writing skills, he has also made me love history! He is a gifted lecturer and a skillful mediator of thoughtful discussion.

• I've learned more about how to write and how to think from him than most of my other professors. But his greatest contribution to Pomona College is his development of thoughtful and fun communities inside and outside the classroom…. Although I will be forever indebted to him for the challenges he posed to my mind, I will cherish more the community(s) he created in my time at Pomona.

In his research, Wolf is focused on translating the writings of Eulogius of Córdoba (9C), the main source for the so-called Cordoban martyrs' movement (850-859) as well as continuing his work on the earliest Latin biographies of Muhammad. He earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University.


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