Carnegie Mellon University
April 30, 2013

Gregg Franklin and Giovanni Leoni Win Mellon College of Science Awards for Education

Gregg Franklin and Giovanni Leoni Win Mellon College of Science Awards for Education

Gregg Franklin and Giovanni Leoni—winners of this year’s Mellon College of Science awards for education—will be recognized at the University Celebration of Education ceremony on April 30. Their accomplishments will be further celebrated at the Mellon College of Science annual meeting on May 6.

The Richard Moore Award: Gregg Franklin

Photo of Gregg FranklinProfessor and Physics Department Head Gregg Franklin received The Richard Moore Award for his substantial and sustained contributions to the educational mission of MCS. Throughout his almost-30-year career with MCS, Franklin has donned many hats—faculty member, associate dean of MCS, head of the physics department—and, no matter the role, has dedicated himself to engaging students in the study of science.

In the early 1990s Franklin, together with Physics and Education Professor Fred Reif, revamped key components of the introductory Physics I course. During recitations, instead of watching a TA solve problems at the board, Franklin and Reif encouraged students to work in pairs to solve problems, a technique that forces students to think more deeply about the work they are doing. Franklin also replaced TA office hours with Course Centers, places where students can work with TAs as well as with other students. These changes continue to help students be more active and engaged in and out of the classroom.

During his many years teaching Physics I, Franklin developed a series of multiple-choice questions that tested students’ conceptual understanding. At first he posed these questions during lectures, and students answered the questions on paper. But Franklin quickly realized that this wasn’t a very efficient way of gauging student understanding, so he introduced “clickers,” an interactive technology that enabled him to immediately collect and view the responses from the entire class. Franklin’s early use of remote clickers was a success and has since been adopted by professors throughout the university.

Beyond Physics I, Franklin created courses for non-physics majors, including an interdisciplinary course that focused on 1905, the year that Albert Einstein published four papers that changed the face of physics, and a version of Richard Muller’s “Physics for Future Presidents” course that arms students with some of the physics concepts behind hot button issues that dominate today’s political discourse.

Julius Ashkin Teaching Award: Giovanni Leoni

Photo of Giovanni Leoni Mathematical Sciences Professor Giovanni Leoni received the Julius Ashkin Teaching Award for his unusual devotion and effectiveness in teaching undergraduate students. Students describe Leoni’s classes as “challenging, but in a good way,” and his homework assignments as taking “time and effort and real inspiration to complete.” Many students thrive under the high expectations Leoni has set, especially when he does everything he can to help them succeed.

“Dr. Leoni encouraged creative thinking, and although I spent more time on class work compared to an average class at Carnegie Mellon, I enjoyed doing the assignments and feel that my approach to solving problems has significantly improved,” wrote one student in support of Leoni’s nomination. “There was nothing quite like the feeling of solving a homework problem.”

Whether he’s teaching Real Analysis I and II or honors-level Math Studies Analysis, Leoni has a gift for challenging students to think at the highest level while also being approachable and caring. In the classroom, students are particularly drawn to Leoni’s teaching style. “He would always ask the class what the next steps of the proof might be, and give us hints if we were unsure…it felt almost as if we had come up with [the steps] completely on our own,” wrote one of his Math Studies Analysis students.

Leoni is also generous with his time. He prepares extensive notes for his lectures, which take the place of textbooks in many cases, he holds additional office hours on weekends when he senses his students can use the extra help, and he takes great care in checking students’ homework and providing feedback on their problem-solving approaches.

“The fact that Giovanni spends so much time with students in addition to his extensive scientific work is truly noteworthy,” said Mathematical Sciences Department Head Tom Bohman.