Though Harvard faculty members often garner accolades for their pioneering research, they are perhaps less often publically celebrated for their talents as teachers and mentors. In that spirit, each year a select group of them are named Harvard College Professors to recognize, in addition to their research activities, their excellence in undergraduate teaching and their important contributions to students.
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith has named as this year’s honorees David Charbonneau, professor of astronomy and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Marla Frederick, professor of African and African American Studies and the Study of Religion; Shigehisa Kuriyama, professor and chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, professor in the Department of History of Science, and Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History; Ann Pearson, Murray and Martha Ross Professor of Environmental Sciences; and Salil Vadhan, Vicky Joseph Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics.
“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences values excellence in teaching and research, recognizing that they are mutually reinforcing,” says Smith. “In an educational environment like Harvard’s, where learning is happening well beyond the classroom alone, teaching and research are truly intertwined.”
The Harvard College Professorships began in 1997 with a gift from John and Frances Loeb. The five-year appointments provide faculty with extra support for research or scholarly activities, a semester of paid leave, or summer salary. The professorships are one of several efforts dedicated to highlighting exceptional teaching at Harvard.
A member of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS), Ann Pearson’s research centers on understanding how and why organisms leave particular chemical signals in the geologic record. By examining microbial processes, her research yields insight about environmental conditions on Earth today, in the past, and projects potential human impacts on the future. This work leads Pearson and her students everywhere from western China to the deep sea.
“My department makes a strong commitment to experiential learning,” Pearson explained. “I firmly believe that cultivating dynamic interactions between students is as important as one-on-one contact with faculty, and taking students into a field is a great way to achieve this.”
To that end, every three years Pearson leads an oceanography field trip for EPS concentrators aboard a Sea Education Association sailing ship for the week before the academic year begins.
“It is a fantastic community-building exercise, in addition to introducing students to concepts of physical, chemical, biological, and geological oceanography — and we even throw in a bit of celestial navigation for good measure,” she says.
Pearson believes so strongly in the power of experiential learning, she hopes to use her Harvard College Professorship to work with colleagues both in and beyond Harvard to ensure that as many students as possible have access to hands-on learning experiences.
This article originally appeared in Harvard Gazette.