Students and Faculty Honored for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring

(Top) Professors Stephen Brier (Urban Education); Alicia Meléndez (GC/Queens, Biology); and Phillip Ewell (GC/Hunter, Music); (Bottom) Yuzhe Song (Physics); Kahdeidra Martin (Urban Education); and Inés Vañó Garcia (Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures)

The Graduate Center honored three students and three faculty members with the 2020 Teaching and Mentoring Awards. Professors Stephen Brier (Urban Education); Phillip Ewell (GC/Hunter, Music); and Alicia Meléndez (GC/Queens, Biology) won mentoring awards for their “long-term commitment to students at all stages of graduate research.” Kahdeidra Martin (Urban Education); Yuzhe Song (Physics); and Inés Vañó Garcia (Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures) were recognized for their excellence in teaching CUNY students.


Teaching Award Winners

Kahdeidra Martin has taught introductory composition at LaGuardia Community College and literacy methods courses at Hunter College School of Education. A former middle school special education teacher and a poet, she uses “social justice pedagogy to facilitate a caring and critical community.” The themes of Black Lives Matter and postcolonialism coalesced in her composition courses in which she used contemporary novels and films to help her diverse students draw “connections between colonialism, U.S. imperialism, immigration, stereotypes, and anti-Blackness.” 

Yuzhe Song teaches physics labs for science majors and astronomy labs for all majors at York College. He strives to make the material appropriate for students of “extremely diverse backgrounds.” In his astronomy lab, he introduced students to new astrophysics research in two minutes, without using math or physics. “Everybody was able to walk away with some ‘wow’ facts about cutting-edge astronomy discoveries,” he wrote. Students from the class have consulted him about minors and advanced coursework, and he finds it “extremely rewarding” to lead “students to become more interested in areas where my own passion lies.”

Inés Vañó Garcia has taught at Brooklyn College, LaGuardia Community College, and Lehman College. She prepares her students to “face challenging readings and be active participants in class discussions” while encouraging them with “public-facing” projects to be “able to acquire new digital literacies, transferable skills that can continue to be used in other coursework and, furthermore, throughout their careers.” She noted the ways her students influence her. “The multilingual and multicultural experiences that my students bring to the classroom make me constantly challenge myself to rethink my own teaching approaches and my role as a professor,” she reflected. 


Mentoring Award Winners

Stephen Brier has been a professor at The Graduate Center since 2002. He is the founder and coordinator of the Doctoral Certificate Program in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, The Graduate Center’s senior academic technology officer, and co-founder and co-director of the New Media Lab. A former student, Brian Jones (Ph.D. ’18, Urban Education), who is now associate director of education at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, echoed many in calling Brier “an amazing mentor; he is generous, thoughtful, diligent, and caring. I am grateful to Steve for being so available and offering so much useful guidance and support during my time as a graduate student, and beyond.” 

Philip Ewell teaches music theory at Hunter College and The Graduate Center. The executive officer of The Graduate Center’s music program wrote that Ewell is “a groundbreaker in the field of music theory, with particular focus on issues of diversity” and “has been consistently supportive and unfailingly demanding in his advising … and the results have been remarkable.” One of his students called “invaluable” Ewell’s commitment both to the field of music theory and to performing. He added, “I find Prof. Ewell’s commitment to addressing issues of diversity, inclusion, and relevance in the field of music and music theory both admirable and necessary. These are issues that are often ignored or under-emphasized in our field, and it is refreshing and heartening to have a mentoring figure who is willing to initiate difficult discussions about the social issues and responsibilities we face as musicians and scholars in music.” 

Alicia Meléndez has been a faculty member at Queens College and The Graduate Center since 2006. She previously served as chair of the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology subprogram of the Ph.D. Program in Biology, in which she oversaw the research progress of about 120 students. She was noted for her deep investment in positive student outcomes. One of her students wrote, “She was personally invested in each of us finding the best placement to help us succeed, including helping us to prepare to navigate difficult conversations or situations with potential principal investigators. Dr. Meléndez centered the experience of the students first and foremost. It was readily apparent that she was a dedicated advocate for those of us in the program and desired to give us the best possible training and preparation for a professional life in science. “

Serving on the selection committee this year were two previous recipients of the mentoring awards, Distinguished Professor Nancy K. Miller (French, English, Comparative Literature) and Professor Mahesh Lakshman (GC/CCNY, Chemistry). The other members were Jenny Furlong, director of the Office of Career Planning and Professional Development; Luke Waltzer, director of the Teaching and Learning Center; and Professor Lynn Chancer (GC/Hunter, Sociology).  

Submitted on: SEP 4, 2020

Category: Biology | Faculty Awards | GCstories | General GC News | Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures | Music Ph.D. - D.M.A | Physics | Student News | Urban Education