Every year, juniors and seniors nominate professors for the Wig Awards, Pomona College’s highest honor for excellence in teaching, concern for students, and service to the College and community. This year, six faculty members were elected by juniors and seniors and confirmed by a committee of trustees, faculty and students. This year’s recipients are:
- Eleanor Birrell, assistant professor of computer science
- Erica Dobbs, assistant professor of politics
- Phyllis Jackson, associate professor of art history
- Joanne Nucho, assistant professor of anthropology
- Kara Wittman, assistant professor of English
- Yuqing Melanie Wu, professor of computer science
In anonymous comments, students praised these six professors who go above and beyond in both their teaching and mentorship, especially during an extraordinary year of remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science Eleanor Birrell joined Pomona in 2018. She focuses her research on system security and data privacy, with an interest in the design and development of systems for better managing sensitive data in the modern world. She investigates user preferences, develops policy languages and builds systems for enforcing use-based authorizations. This is her first Wig Award.
“Professor Birrell has consistently pioneered progressive teaching methods in CS and made even the most dry or complicated subjects engaging, clear and enjoyable. Her enthusiasm for teaching and the subject matter is contagious. But more than just having passion, which many Pomona professors do, what makes her courses stand out is the level of organization, planning and thoughtfulness in creating an effective educational experience. Both in-person and remote, she has found ways to make classes interactive and creatively write engaging and accessible in-class exercises that transfer knowledge for even seemingly abstract concepts like security or system performance.”
“Professor Birrell is honestly so hardworking. She'll take the time out of her busy day to join mentor sessions when students are struggling. She really goes above and beyond to make herself available to students; we appreciate her so much. She's also an amazing lecturer!”
In her research, Assistant Professor of Politics Erica Dobbs examines the shifting dynamics of citizenship and political membership in a world of mass migration. Her work focuses on two spheres: political representation and social protection. With Pomona since 2018, this is her first Wig Award.
“Professor Dobb’s teaching style is unique and impactful. She has a way of bringing you into class discussions as an equal, while at the same time providing a guiding hand to ensure that every fine detail of the reading is covered. I left every class with the feeling that my mind was blown and then put back together because of the profoundness and implications of the material covered.”
“Over the past year, Professor Dobbs has exhibited great bravery. In an unprecedented time, Professor Dobbs has led the way for [exemplary] professorship by showing a commitment to education and to students. …This is evident by the fact that student engagement with the class material is through the roof.”
Associate Professor of Art History Phyllis Jackson joined the College in 1993. Her research interests include the arts, cinemas, aesthetics and discursive strategies of Africa and the African Diaspora in the United States, the Caribbean and Western Europe. This is Jackson’s fourth Wig Award, having previously won in 2003, 2010 and 2015.
“Professor Jackson is an intellectual champion. Her courses dramatically altered my worldview and exposed me to great changemakers across the African Diaspora. She expects a lot from her students but rightfully so. The coursework she assigned was engaging and helped me engage with different mediums of knowledge. By assigning film/video content in addition to books and articles, Professor Jackson is modernizing the way students learn in the classroom. I learned how to speak with authority and advocate for myself in her class.”
“Professor Jackson revolutionized my understanding of the world through her Arts of Africa class. I took her class my freshman spring and it has significantly shaped my lens of the world for the better and promptly pushed me to go through the uncomfortable process of interrogating what my conceptual maps were in relation to hegemonic narratives of how societies around the world are structured. Professor Jackson quite literally turned my world inside-out and for that I am incredibly grateful.”
Assistant Professor of Anthropology Joanne Nucho’s research interests include critical infrastructure studies, urban studies and environmental inequality, as well as nonfiction film and video and visual ethnography. She is also a filmmaker and her nonfiction films have screened at the London International Documentary Film Festival in 2008 and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 2017, among other festivals. Nucho has been with Pomona since 2016 and this is her first Wig Award.
“Professor Nucho is brilliant! It's inspiring to just spend time around her. I am so deeply appreciative of the steps she has taken to meaningfully change her teaching during the pandemic to be inclusive and support students. She is also a wonderful advisor who shows a lot of care and concern, and she gives great guidance!”
“Nucho has been an amazing professor and advisor since my first semester when I took her ID1 course. She is easily the biggest reason that I became an anthropology major, and she has always supported my academic endeavors and cared for my well-being as a first-gen/low-income student.”
Director of College Writing and Assistant Professor of English Kara Wittman specializes in 19th-century British literature and narrative and novel theory. Wittman also works on the theory and practice of writing pedagogy, rhetoric and composition. Wittman joined the College in 2016 and this is her first Wig Award.
“Kara's prioritization of students and teaching shines through in everything she does. She meets students where they are instead of demanding that they conform to any preformed notion of what they should be. The classes that I've loved most at Pomona and the ones that have helped me grow are ones that Kara has taught. Her intelligence and care are profound, both in the classes she teaches and the way she administrates the college writing program, and she is more than deserving of the Wig Award.”
“Kara has sparked such immense joy and fulfillment in writing during my senior year. She introduced me to how writing and essay writing can be so incredibly wonder-filled beyond the borders of academic writing. Furthermore, Kara has so much love and care for her students beyond her role of a professor. I really appreciated that during this time. I know that thanks to Kara, I will continue to pursue and explore my relationship with writing.”
Yuqing Melanie Wu
Professor of Computer Science Yuqing Melanie Wu’s research focuses on data representation, query languages, query processing and optimization, indexing and security of data repositories for relational, semi-structured and graph data. She first came to Pomona as a visiting associate professor in 2014 and joined as an associate professor the following year.
“Professor Wu is by far the best lecturer I have had at Pomona. She traverses across the entirety of the whiteboard with grace, never missing a beat, and completes the delivery in classy fashion, with enough quirk to keep you on your toes. She wields the rare gift of making the complex simple, serving up abstract and difficult concepts on a plate in bite-size servings; the samples accrue at just the right pacing, leaving ample time to digest each piece in between.”
“Professor Wu is such a knowledgeable, kind-hearted, and patient professor. Her lectures are very clear, organized and easy to follow. She is always so understanding towards students, and she goes to great lengths to accommodate students’ needs and make sure everyone is keeping up with the materials. Her expectations are always clear, and I always feel I am prepared for exams in her classes.”