Six Pomona College professors have received the 2020 Wig Distinguished Professor Award for excellence in teaching. The award is the highest honor bestowed on Pomona faculty recognizing exceptional teaching, concern for students and service to the College and community.
Each year, a group of outstanding professors is elected by juniors and seniors, and confirmed by a committee of trustees, faculty and students.
This year’s recipients are:
- Aimee Bahng, assistant professor of gender and women’s studies
- Tom Le, assistant professor of politics
- Jane Liu, associate professor of chemistry
- Jorge Moreno, assistant professor of physics and astronomy
- Gilda Ochoa, professor of Chicana/o Latina/o studies
- Alexandra Papoutsaki, assistant professor of computer science
In anonymously written nomination comments, students offered praise for the six professors who go above and beyond in their teaching and mentorship, especially during this time of disruption and transition to online instruction due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies Aimee Bahng joined Pomona in 2017 and focuses her research in areas that include queer and feminist science and technology studies as well as transnational Asian/American and transpacific studies. Known for her boundary-pushing lectures, she teaches courses that emphasize decolonial and intersectional approaches to gender and sexuality studies. A first-time Wig Award winner, she’s also a recent recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s highly competitive New Directions Fellowship.
“Professor Bahng is one of the most intellectually generous people I have ever met. Her courses are fascinating, facilitating excellent discussions that I feel have contributed to my growth as a person. She masters the difficult dance of encouraging rigorous intellectual work, while recognizing the strangeness of academia as an elite space (particularly in the context of Gender and Women’s Studies).”
“…It is common for us to feel a little awkward and uncomfortable in class, but this is a good thing because it means we are doing real work and pushing the boundaries of what we know and how we live--a necessary and important process for anybody who is trying to better the world they live in. Aimee is also a true ally who has done such great programming work for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, disability and environmental justice, and all students who were seeking support during the COVID crisis.”
Assistant Professor of Politics Tom Le is a scholar of East Asia who joined Pomona in 2015. Among his areas of expertise are Japanese security policy, Japan-South Korea-U.S. relations, war memory and reconciliation and militarism cultures. Le’s current work includes studying the lessons from the Reconstruction Era America and Post-WWII East Asia to develop a theory of reconciliation. This work most recently earned him a Graves Award in the Humanities. The author of opinion editorial pieces on East Asia relations, Le co-authors many of the pieces with his students. This is his first Wig Award.
“I met Professor Le my sophomore year in an upper division international relations class. At first, I was intimidated by his candor and overwhelming expertise on the subject of East Asian politics. However, in the span of a few weeks, I realized how lucky I was to have the chance to take one of his classes. Professor Le has always pushed me to be better, work harder and care more. His leadership style is inspiring, and Pomona is lucky to have him as faculty. Thank you, Professor Le, for always encouraging me to be a better scholar, student and friend.”
“Professor Le, has made an indelible mark on countless Pomona students and the Pomona community as a whole. He makes international relations (IR) accessible and exciting for his students, and the amount of work he puts in for his students and his work is evident in the quality of his teaching, his student's passion for IR, and the numerous articles and commentaries he has published.”
As a chemist and molecular biologist, Associate Professor of Chemistry Jane Liu is driven to understand, at a molecular level, how regulatory RNAs function. A two-time Wig Award winner, Liu aims to teach students the skills and vocabulary necessary to appreciate scientific methodology. Her students in her lab are integral contributors to her various research projects to better understand cholera bacteria. A member of the chemistry and molecular biology departments, Liu has taught at Pomona since 2012.
“Professor Liu is absolutely amazing as a professor, mentor and friend to all her students. As a professor, she is constantly supportive and encouraging, and she takes that extra step to check in with each and every student about the comprehension of the material. Her biochemistry class was wonderful; the organization, active learning and cooperative work was very noteworthy. She is incredibly helpful with guiding students through post-graduate options and how to navigate college efficiently. Additionally, she was a great mentor for all of her research students in the lab (especially me since I was kind of messing a few things up), helping promote safety and learning useful laboratory skills. Finally, she's a kind friend to everyone. She has some fun quirks and likes to tell funny stories to connect with her students.”
“It's amazing how a professor can make such a big difference in your academic experience, even if you only see them once a week for lab. Professor Liu is not only extremely knowledgeable and a talented scientist, but she is also one of the kindest human beings I have ever met.”
Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Jorge Moreno is a theoretical astrophysicist, who studies and teaches galaxy evolution. Specifically, he uses high-performance supercomputing to simulate galaxy encounters, and investigates the role of merging in shaping the structure of the interstellar medium in galaxies. Central to Moreno’s pedagogical practice is the foundational work that is done to create an anti-hierarchical space. A first-time Wig Award winner, Moreno invests time designing a classroom community focused on trust, community, class climate, restorative justice, affirmation and accountability. Moreno has taught at Pomona since 2017.
“Profe Moreno has been the most supportive person in a position of power that I have ever met in my four years at Pomona. This is a person who devotes their time, attention, and energy to all students while constantly emphasizing the voices and realities of the most vulnerable students on campus. By modeling a core STEM class as a collective that centers justice, empathy and growth as a person rather than as solely a student, Profe Moreno has made me into a more confident and better person ready to embrace my future post-grad. Jorge Moreno deserves this award and recognition for doing so much with the sole intention of helping students be the best versions of themselves.”
“Professor Moreno has completely reimagined the possibilities of the STEM classroom. His teaching style and commitment to students – particularly students that have been historically excluded from STEM spaces – makes him one of the most beloved professors at Pomona. In his short time at the college, Professor Moreno has made an impactful impression on students from all disciplines. He is truly an advocate for his students.”
Professor of Chicana/o Latina/o Studies Gilda Ochoa is an expert on Latinos in education, inequalities in schools, community partnerships, and race/ethnic relationships between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants. A Pomona faculty member since 1997, Ochoa strives for her classes to be interactive and transformative learning spaces, and she regularly collaborates with teachers on various college-high school student-centered projects. This is her fourth Wig Award.
“Gilda Ochoa is the most deserving faculty member for this award because she is always available for students regardless of their major or background. Gilda Ochoa is the person to ask you how you are feeling rather than how you are doing She will listen to you and make you feel heard and cared for. Her research advances social justice by centering underrepresented voices…”
“… She ensures her research is accessible to not just elite academic audiences but also to individuals who may not have a college education or are low-income by making them comprehensible and free to access. In this way, she truly respects diversity and is an ally. Through her close work with students and in the community, Professor Ochoa is a true embodiment of all of Pomona's values–professionalism, community, teamwork, student development and ethical behavior.”
A first-time winner of the Wig Award, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Alexandra Papoutsaki and studies human-computer interaction (HCI). Known for her unwavering commitment to students, Papoutsaki writes and presents academic papers with her students in top international academic conferences. As remote collaboration becomes more ubiquitous, Papoutsaki and her students are studying how eye-tracking technology could enhance remote teamwork. This latest endeavor is supported by a National Science Foundation grant. She joined Pomona College in 2017.
“Professor Papoutsaki teaches a difficult subject with amazing patience and humor. She handled every difficult situation incredibly well – I'm thankful I had her!”
“I only had Professor Papoutsaki for one semester of computer science but in that time she became one of my favorite professors. I didn't have that much interaction with her beyond class but the thing that struck me the most about her was her willingness to explain and, for lack of a better term, ‘dumb things’ down for me. I was not the best computer science student and was never going to end up going very far in it, but Professor Papoutsaki still worked hard to make sure I understood things. Some people who are as evidently smart as she is in a given field, aren't able to make things accessible to those who don't share their knowledge, but she can. I think it shows not just her talent for teaching, but what a genuinely great person she is.”