Two faculty members receive Yale-NUS Teaching Award for exemplary teaching

16 February 2021

By Ethel Pang

When people think about literature, some might think about fictional characters and narratives that have little applicability to the ‘real world’.

Lecturer of Humanities (Writing and Literature) Carissa Foo recalled a personal moment that encapsulated this misconception. She shared, “In graduate school, a friend (from a different department) who was also working on women’s experiences of places told me that the difference between us was that I was reading about fictional characters whilst they were interviewing actual people.

“Until that moment, I hadn’t realised that people would think of literature as unreal, and that its subjects are mere characters on page.”

Consequently, Dr Foo has been intentionally incorporating creative assignments in all her courses. She believes that this allows students to discover that literature is very much real and applicable to their own lives.

Lecturer of Humanities (Writing and Literature) Dr Carissa Foo is the recipient of the 2021 Early Career Teaching Award. Image taken by Ashbel Chioh for Yale-NUS College.

Dr Foo is the recipient of the Early Career Teaching Award, part of the Yale-NUS Teaching Award 2021 to recognise excellence and innovation in teaching. The other award, the Distinguished Teaching Award, went to Professor of Social Sciences (Environmental Studies) Michael Maniates.

Another occasion where Dr Foo experimented with different mediums and pedagogies was in her Girlfriends: Narratives of Friendship course, where she uses cinematography as a lens for studying femininity.

Abel Teng (Class of 2022), who took that class with Dr Foo, said, “She puts in a great deal of effort into designing a meaningful and intellectually stimulating syllabus and lessons for us, and chooses from a variety of mediums and backgrounds.” 

He added, “I really enjoyed our creative project where we each contributed an entry to a class zine. Dr Foo compiled and printed all our entries into a beautiful physical book, even contributing some works of her own – a physical testament to how she goes above and beyond to create engaging learning experiences for her students.”

Abel described Dr Foo as “one of the most dedicated and caring professors” he has ever had and is happy her efforts are being recognised.

Professor of Social Sciences (Environmental Studies) Michael Maniates is the recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award. Image taken by Ashbel Chioh for Yale-NUS College.

This dedication to teaching is also embodied in Prof Maniates, who has been an educator for close to four decades. As one of the College’s inaugural faculty members, Prof Maniates has contributed significantly to the development of the College’s Environmental Studies programme.

Even with his illustrious teaching career, Prof Maniates believes that teaching is never perfect in a given semester and always finds something new to work on.

“Every group of students is different and might respond to the course material differently. That’s why I’m always thinking about how to make the learning experience useful for students,” Prof Maniates explained.

To do so, Prof Maniates consciously creates spaces for spontaneity.

He said, “A lot of my colleagues call me crazy for tossing my notes out year to year, but that’s exactly what I do.”

He added, “To help me see the material through my students’ eyes, I approach it anew each time I teach it. While there is some structure to my teaching, I have come to realise that some of my best ideas for choosing course material have come from students asking really interesting questions or reacting to material in ways I didn’t expect.”

Students like Kimberly Ho (Class of 2022) really appreciates his teaching style. She shared, “Prof Maniates is academically engaging, and pushes us to discover what it means to be a critical thinker. More than that, however, his classes are also extremely fun and quirky! Taking Prof Maniates’ Introduction to Environmental Studies course in my first year was really what solidified my love for the discipline. I’m really thankful to him for supporting my journey and taking my learning to the next level.”

Prof Maniates sees education as a process of shared exploration between student and professor. Even as professors guide their students through the process of intellectual enrichment and discovery, he believes that professors should be enjoying the process and having a good time.

Ending with words of advice he hopes to give to his junior colleagues, he said, “Engage with the course material in ways that we ourselves find exciting, and don’t be afraid of sharing that excitement and joy with your students.”