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Changing Lives

by Meaghan Agnew

Elahe Nezami, assistant professor of preventive medicine, was the grandprize winner of this year’s event.

Amy Tierney/Lee Salem Photography Inc.

Professors celebrated for their above-and-beyond teaching techniques were honored at the third annual Teaching Has No Boundaries Luncheon held in the Garden Court Dining Room of the Upper Commons.

Elahe Nezami, assistant professor of preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine of USC, director for undergraduate studies in health promotion and a resident faculty member in Parkside International Residential College, was the grand prizewinner of this year’s April 20 event, earning a $1,000 gift certificate to the USC Bookstore.

The other winners, who each received a $100 bookstore gift certificate, were: Brent Blair, a senior lecturer in the School of Theatre; Lynn Swartz Dodd, a visiting assistant professor of religion; Scott Frank, a sophomore seminar lecturer in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; James Kincaid, the Aerol Arnold Professor of English; John Larsen, professor of accounting; Sharon Lockhart, associate professor in the School of Fine Arts; James Moore, professor of industrial and systems engineering, civil engineering and public policy and management; Michael Quick, associate professor of molecular biology; and Walter Williams, professor of gender studies.

Michael Jackson, vice president for student affairs, opened the luncheon with a keynote address, extending thanks to the faculty members being honored.

“You inspire our students with your creativity, you inspire our students with your dedication and your commitment to their learning, your commitment to helping each student find his or her way at USC and realizing the potential that’s in them,” Jackson said.

Students who had nominated their professors then rose to give them their due.

Among the more humorous speeches was a wry tribute delivered by senior Nina Hansra.

“I’m very privileged to have this opportunity to speak about Dr. Michael Quick. I’ve been oh-so-fortunate to know him for the last two years as a teacher in the classroom and a researcher in the lab,” Hansra said. “Unfortunately, though, I could not come up with very many nice things to say, so I’m left with no other choice but to fill this time with what I hope to be imaginative and convincing lies about why he deserves this award.”

Then came time to introduce the day’s highest honoree. “Each year the judges choose a sort of poster child who represents and epitomizes the spirit behind this award,” said Mark Kann, chair of the political science department and director of the Academic Cultural Initiative, which sponsors the awards.

The two previous winners were neurobiology professor William McClure (2002) and physics professor Gene Bickers (2003).

Junior Nitin Sharma, one of Nezami’s students, praised her vitality in the classroom and unparalleled commitment to the students at Parkside, evidenced by the lavish meals she cooks every Sunday for all the residents of the hall.

Sharma concluded by reading aloud from his own written nomination:

“If you asked many of the hundreds of students living in the Parkside International Residential College to describe Dr. Nezami, you are bound to hear phrases ranging from ‘the most involved resident faculty member ever,’ ‘a personal friend,’ ‘a teacher full of life,’ ‘a motherly mentor’ and of course, ‘a wonderful chef.’ ”

Nezami then described how her chosen profession has been as much about learning as teaching.

“I knew that I needed to get degrees and learn the skills that would give me a teaching position, so I spent a lot of time learning,” she said. “And then when I got my first teaching position, I was so scared that my students would ask me a question that I wouldn’t be able to answer. Then I really started learning.

“This is a great opportunity for me to say how grateful I am to my students,” she added. “Some of the best learning in my life has come from my students.”

Now in its third year, the Teaching Has No Boundaries awards seek to honor professors who take learning outside the classroom walls.

The call for nominations seeks “outstanding teachers of undergraduates who inspire and transform their students by working with them in residence halls and Greek houses; by involving them in service-learning and voluntary community service; by arranging or joining students on trips to museums, concerts or weekend retreats; by participating in extracurricular advisement, book clubs and student organizations.”

It’s exactly these kinds of contributions that deserve increased recognition, Kann said.

“As we learn each year from student introductions,” he said, “faculty often change students’ lives, not only in the classroom but on campus and in the community too.”

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