Winners of 2023 Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students Celebrated

Prize winner Oualid Merzouga, left, and Karen Detlefsen, vice provost for education

Six Penn Arts & Sciences students were among the ten winners of the 2023 Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students. Recipients were recognized from a pool of 44 Ph.D. candidates and master’s students nominated primarily by undergraduates—a quality unique to and cherished about this prize.

“It’s a particularly authentic expression of gratitude from undergraduates, and that’s really the pleasure [of presenting these awards],” said Vice Provost for Education Karen Detlefsen, who announced the winners. Each winner received a certificate and a monetary award. “I’m so proud of our students: Our undergraduates, for taking the time to recognize what it is our graduate students contribute to the student body, and the graduate students who are contributing to the life of the University,” Detlefsen continued. “Students are the lifeblood of the University and without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

The Penn Arts & Sciences winners, all doctoral candidates, were Kai Feng (Demography), Ann Ho (English), Ritesh Isuri (Chemistry), Arianna James (English), Oualid Merzouga (Mathematics), and Derek Yang (Chemistry).

Merzouga (pictured), who received thunderous applause from colleagues and students upon receiving his Prize, said building strong relationships with students is the main ingredient for being a successful teaching assistant.

"First of all, I have really good teachers,” he said, “so I try to replicate what they’re doing. But the main ingredient is I always try to place myself in the student’s position, to judge how the course is going from their perspective. And that’s hard because when you know all the material, it’s difficult to try to relate to students who are learning for the first time.”

He also quipped that because his class takes place at 7 p.m., it’s extra challenging to ensure his students don’t fall asleep. He likes to add peculiar facts about mathematicians to add some flair to the material.

“If you can make them laugh, that’s even better,” Merzouga said.

To read the full announcement, click here.


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