Professors Polina Barskova and Herbert Bernstein are the 2015 winners of the Gruber Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Advising.
Established in 2011 by Hampshire College graduate David Gruber 72F, the awards highlight best practices in teaching and advising. Each winner receives $10,000 and, in the year following receipt of the award, either gives a lecture or organizes a symposium to share teaching and advising techniques with other faculty.
Russian literature professor Barskova received the award for teaching, and physics professor Bernstein won the advising award.
The award review committee, which chooses finalists based on nominations made by the Hampshire community, wrote that Barskova “is an ethereal presence in the classroom, captivating her students in way that makes learning effortless and inspiring a mentor/student relationship that often extends far past a student’s tenure in her classroom.”
“I think that working at Hampshire, to a huge extent, is about dialogue with students,” Barskova said. “It’s one of the most intense classroom processes I can imagine. It’s all about reacting to them and them reacting to you, one hundred percent of the time, because of the nature of what we do here. To hear back from them in such a beautiful and generous way was a gesture of trust.”
In four decades of advising, Bernstein has worked to build academic and personal ties with his students while adapting his approach to meet the learning differences of each of them. The committee wrote that he is “proven to go above and beyond normal expectations of both personal and academic support and guidance.”
“Advising, in a sense, is at the core of being a Hampshire professor,” Bernstein said. “It’s about taking seriously the changes that can occur with an appropriately empowered student during their time here. You have to know a lot, but you also have to realize they may be more of an expert than you are, especially on the subject of their Div III work.”
Gruber was excited to learn that Bernstein had been chosen, as he credited his former professor as an inspiration for the awards.
“It’s difficult for me to imagine having been a success at Hampshire without a strong advisor/advisee relationship like I had with Herb,” Gruber said. “He keeps on top of how your studies are going, but also how your life is going.”
When developing the award process, it was important that students make the decisions, Gruber said: “It’s intended to be recognition from the community. Who knows better than the students which faculty members are the great teachers and great advisors?”
The 2015 award committee included students Shirish Bhattarai, ilia Esrig, Rachel Garner, Isaac Marshall, Luna Goldberg, and Mike Merzel. Melissa Scheid Frantz, assistant dean of students for community advocacy, served as committee adviser.