12 February 2019: Inaugural Yale-NUS Teaching Awards recognises two professors for commitment to teaching

By Kelly Ng

Associate Professor Mira Seo (left) and Assistant Professor Ng Hui Khoon (right) are the inaugural winners of the Yale-NUS Teaching Awards. Image by Charmaine Chua/Yale-NUS College.   

As an intimate liberal arts college dedicated to undergraduate education, Yale-NUS faculty members are committed to achieving excellence in research and developing new curricular and pedagogical approaches that will foster innovation and contribute towards building a community of learning. Besides being highly qualified in their areas of expertise, faculty members also bring with them years of experience in undergraduate teaching. To recognise the engagement and contributions of the faculty to teaching and mentoring students, the Yale-NUS Teaching Awards was established.

There are two award categories in the Teaching Awards: the Distinguished Teaching Award and Early Career Teaching Award. The Awards recognises faculty members for their dedication to teaching, leadership in curriculum development, and a deep commitment to student learning.

On 16 January 2019, the College announced the inaugural winners of both categories – Associate Professor of Humanities (Literature) Mira Seo received the Distinguished Teaching Award and Assistant Professor of Science (Physics) Ng Hui Khoon received the Early Career Teaching Award.

Foremost to the list of selection criteria used to assess the nominees is the ability of the awardee to inspire intellectual development in their students and effectively mentor them within and beyond the classroom.

“The Yale-NUS community of teachers and scholars works very hard to ensure the most robust learning opportunities are offered to students. Acknowledging the many hours of curricular development, facilitation of learning, and leadership in teaching is an important way we can make excellent teaching visible,” said Dr Nancy Gleason, Director of the Centre for Teaching & Learning (CTL).

An open call for nominations went out to all Yale-NUS students, faculty and staff in August 2018, and the awardees were eventually chosen by the Teaching Award Committee after a round of shortlisting. The committee is chaired by Dean of Faculty Professor Jeannette Ickovicks, and comprised Dr Gleason, Associate Professor Andrew Hui, Chair of the Teaching Learning and Advising Committee, Assistant Professor Ajay Mathuru, and student representative Jolene Lum (Class of 2019). In subsequent years, the committee will include the previous year’s winners as well.

Sharing a student’s perspective on the award, Jolene said, “I think it is wonderful to have such an award to recognise great teachers and to inspire more faculty members to teach, lead, and inspire students. Such faculty move beyond just being an academic who is caught up in their own research and publications. I believe their dedication and service to the College has also inspired many of our own students to consider a career in academia.”

Asst Prof Ng holds the communication between students and teacher in high regard, a key factor in helping her simplify complex ideas for students. She added that the small class sizes at Yale-NUS also provide opportunities for close interaction and effective communication between professors and students.

Asst Prof Ng also emphasised the importance to motivate students in times of stress and build trust with them. “Yale-NUS students like to be challenged but when assignments pile up as they invariably do during the semester, they need extra reminders as to why the assignments are important for them and their learning. Making sure that I set only tasks that are attainable and useful builds up a trust between the students and me,” she said.

For Assoc Prof Seo, she finds value in sharing her passion for learning and coaching with her students. She explained that by “connecting this attitude to music, art, sports, or whatever the students are working on outside of the classroom”, it is easier for students to better understand what it means to be “passionate and be willing to stretch themselves intellectually”.

Moving forward, Assoc Prof Seo is excited to see how the interest in literary antiquity will grow and develop at the College.

“This semester, I’m teaching 17 students Beginning Latin. When we started the college, I would never have expected that we could have so much interest in ancient languages, and we now offer an innovative Global Antiquity minor that supports Ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and Classical Chinese. I can’t wait to see how this interest in antiquity will evolve at the College, because we have so many brilliant scholars and teachers in multiple disciplines to support it,” she said.

Assoc Prof Seo, a member of the College’s inaugural faculty, joined Yale-NUS even before it started classes and spent one year preparing the curriculum with the inaugural faculty. Asst Prof Ng joined the following year, and both professors have dedicated the past six years to teaching at the College while making contributions to their fields of scholarship and developing the curriculum.

“I think we can all agree that these teachers are prized treasures of our community and wonderful mentors who have touched so many different hearts, enabling us to grow so much,” Jolene said.