2005 Recipients of the McCormick and Alumnæ Teaching Professorships

David Abrahamson
Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

David Abrahamson is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University (B.A. 1969), University of California Graduate School of Journalism (M.J. 1973), and New York University (Ph.D. 1992). Abrahamson joined Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism faculty in 1994; he currently holds the Helen Gurley Brown Research Professorship in Journalism and is the Director of the Center for the Writing Arts. Abrahamson teaches writing, editing, and magazine publishing. His teaching method is both Socratic and interactive, assigning students rigorous "thought exercises." Extending the dialogue beyond the physical classroom, Abrahamson uses electronic listservs to remain in constant contact with his students. His students describe his teaching style as "riveting," and note that "He honestly believes that every student who sits down in his class is a budding literary superstar." Abrahamson's dramatic influence on developing writers can be heard in student comments such as "Professor Abrahamson demanded total commitment and hard work from his students, and his exciting lectures, familiar style and bubbling enthusiasm made giving any less close to impossible." Connected with the top levels of his field, Abrahamson balances his professionalism with an unabashed commitment to student learning and research. Regarding journalism as "both a craft and a calling," Abrahamson has published two books, including Magazine-Made America , an interpretive history of the magazine profession since World War II, and a very considerable number of articles. He and his students have received numerous awards in writing contests. Abrahamson was instrumental in implementing the Summer Reading Project for incoming Medill freshman, and developed one of Medill's most sought-after courses, "Literary Journalism." He is a fellow of the Communications Residential College.

SonBinh Nguyen
Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

SonBinh Nguyen is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University (B.S. 1990) and the California Institute of Technology (Ph.D. 1995). Nguyen joined the Northwestern faculty in 1996, where he is now Associate Professor and the Dow Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry; he also currently serves as Director of the Integrated Science Program. A principal teacher of organic chemistry, Nguyen emphasizes critical thinking, total-synthesis, and real-world problem solving. His students invariably comment that his blend of intellectual rigor, humor, and dynamism make challenging courses both memorable and enriching. While lecturing, Nguyen engages students in vibrant exchanges, constantly encouraging active acquisition of the material. Students laud Nguyen for his approachability and enthusiastic mentoring outside of the classroom. They remark in awe that he holds office hours for several hours on the evenings before a test. Each year, Nguyen writes dozens of personalized letters of reference for his current and former students.  To prepare them for the professional school application process and to get them to think globally about their profession and their aspirations, he asks each student to prepare answers to a series of intellectually difficult questions and go through two-hour mock interview sessions with him. Nguyen is a constant educational innovator; one student described his drive to individualize and refine his teaching methodologies as a process of "perfecting the perfect."   Nguyen's research has been supported steadily by the National Science Foundation. He received a Sloan Fellowship, an NSF CAREER Award, and a Packard Fellowship, among many other research awards. Nguyen was awarded a WCAS Distinguished Teaching Award in 2002 and he was appointed to the ASG Faculty/Administrator Honor Roll in both 2003 and 2004. He is a Fellow of the Residential College of Cultural and Community Studies and the Slivka Residential College of Engineering and Science.

Gail Williams
Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Gail Williams is a graduate of Ithaca College (B.A. 1973) and the School of Music at Northwestern University (M.A. 1976). While still a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Williams joined Northwestern's faculty in 1989; in 1998 she left the Chicago Symphony to devote herself to teaching full-time. In 1992 she became the University's principal Professor of French Horn, devising a rigorous "Syllabus of Horn Studies" for each year of private instruction. Williams takes an active interest in her students from matriculation to graduation, and beyond.  Mentoring her students to become "their own best teachers," Williams applies a "cognitive apprenticeship" model of teaching, which recognizes that interpretations of musical lines and solutions to technical issues will be unique to each student. One undergraduate horn player describes Williams as "incredibly adaptable and exceptionally effective . . . a full person, not just a horn professor." Students invariably use the word "mentor" when praising Williams' teaching. An unflinching supporter of her student's ambitions, Williams has helped place many Music School graduates in the nation's most prestigious orchestras. Williams was the top prize winner of the Ein Heldenleben Contest in 1981. She has made numerous recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Summit Brass, and solo CDs. Currently, she is a founding member of both the Chicago Chamber Musicians and Summit Brass and performs as the Principal horn with the Grand Teton Music Festival and Saito Kinen Orchestra in Japan.

Ellen Wright
Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Lectureship Award

Ellen Wright is a graduate of Indiana University (B.A. 1964, M.A. 1966, Ph.D. 1975).  She joined Northwestern University ’s Writing Program in 1977, where she is currently a College Lecturer.  Wright has played a central role in the Writing Program, helping to bring it to national prominence.  Her students describe her as accessible and ceaselessly encouraging; they praise her for her genuine interest in developing their individual voices as writers.  Wright pushes her students to take risks and experiment when writing, directing their attention to the process and craft, as well as to the end product.  Her students commend her constructive criticism and feedback, noting that interaction with her is at once inspirational and transformative.  She creates original instructional materials, which often are derived from her own experience as a writer dealing with subjects ranging from Latin poetry to country music.  Students across the disciplines credit her with radically improving their ability to use and enjoy writing in academic and professional settings.  Wright has developed numerous writing–intensive courses and seminars at Northwestern, including the advanced undergraduate offering, Contemporary Women Writers.  She frequently serves on Northwestern committees, advises undergraduates, mentors graduate students, and works with colleagues to improve the writing instruction in courses throughout the University.