Carnegie Mellon University
April 16, 2024

William H. and Frances S. Ryan Award for Meritorious Teaching

By Stefanie Johndrow

Since her arrival at Carnegie Mellon University in 2012, Mame-Fatou Niang’s expertise on the Francophone world and dedication to education have manifested as ground-breaking projects, a first-of-its-kind center launching with a conference this month and powerful courses.

This year, Niang was selected as the recipient of the William H. and Frances S. Ryan Award for Meritorious Teaching, which is given annually to a full-time Carnegie Mellon faculty member who has demonstrated unusual devotion and effectiveness in teaching undergraduate or graduate students.

Charting a new path in pedagogy that is pushing boundaries in higher education, Niang brings students into the process of creating, learning and educating as she prioritizes their voices and thoughts. 

Kaytie Nielsen (BHA 2016) recalled how meeting Niang fundamentally shaped her creative and professional trajectories. Nielsen and Niang worked together on “Mariannes Noires,” a documentary on Afro-French womanhood that began as a senior honors thesis and continues to make an impact.

“Dr. Niang inspired me to ask tough questions, pushed me to explore with courage and kindness and trusted me to work with her on a film that addressed a major gap in French media, a project that has certainly changed my life,” Nielsen said.

Niang bridges her scholarship and her teaching practice. Margaret Gerlach, a graduate student in the M.A. in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition program, noted how Niang’s appreciation of student contributions inform her teaching practices. 

“At the core of Dr. Niang’s research is a focus on education,” Gerlach said. “Many assignments in her class involved creating some form of instructional material, and she would often come into class and tell us that she had shared our work with a colleague in Paris, Amsterdam, Boston or one of many other various locations for them to use with their students. Not only did this make us feel valued and proud of our contributions to the field, but it also helped to inform educational practices elsewhere, allowing other educators to teach the next group of students about the topic.” 

Niang’s lessons are transferable to all students regardless of their major. Louis Plottel (ENG 2021) remembers the three courses he took with Niang in the Department of Languages, Cultures & Applied Linguistics as the highlights of his time at CMU.

“As an engineering student, it was really enjoyable to take classes in a distinctly non-STEM discipline taught by a professor at the forefront of her field,” Plottel said. “The energy, passion and intellect Dr. Niang brought to the classroom, combined with the innovative ways she wove in the works of others in her field made her classes some of the best I have taken at CMU, and I know many of her other former students feel the same. Her courses left a lasting and positive impact on my development, both personally and professionally.”

Niang exemplifies the highest standards of student mentorship, seamlessly integrating her research and teaching, via both creative and research projects generating high-impact learning experiences that integrate multiple mediums and student perspectives as thought and learning partners. As an educator, she thoughtfully and innovatively blends technologies, mediums, pedagogical approaches and challenging societal issues that cut across her students’ interests in the humanities, social sciences and STEM.