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Jenny Saffran, PhD honored with Chancellor’s Award

April 8, 2009
Source: UW Communications

Jenny Saffran, PhD
Jenny Saffran, PhD

Ten faculty will receive this year’s Distinguished Teaching Awards. A ceremony and reception are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 22, in the Lee Lounge at the Pyle Center. The Waisman Center's Jenny Saffran, PhD, will be one of the honorees.

When asked what she enjoys most about teaching, Saffran says the question was hard to answer. “If I have to pick one thing, it is encouraging students to think in new ways and to care about what they are learning.”

Saffran says she gets the most satisfaction from “that moment when you see a spark in a student’s eyes or a rapt silence in the classroom and you know that your students are not just listening, but that they are also actively thinking for themselves!”

Saffran joined the Department of Psychology faculty in 1997 after earning her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Rochester. Her research and teaching are focused on learning and child development.

Her colleagues describe her as an exceptional and innovative teacher, an outstanding scholar, and a wise, caring and highly effective mentor.

“Professor Saffran is a scholar-teacher in the classic mold,” says Patricia Devine, chair of the psychology department. “She delights in sharing her knowledge with her students, and her enthusiasm leads them to excel. She teaches courses ranging from first-year undergraduate seminars to large lecture courses to advanced graduate seminars. In all of these venues her primary goal is to encourage critical thinking and argumentation.”

Saffran’s reputation as an outstanding classroom instructor has resulted in invitations to share her teaching techniques at multiple symposia during the past decade, including the Teaching Academy’s summer workshop.

According to her colleagues, many of Saffran’s most valuable teaching experiences have occurred in her lab in the course of mentoring undergraduates engaged in their first independent research projects.

She is highly engaged in her students’ research and has supervised numerous independent research projects, many of which have been published in top journals with undergraduate students as co-authors.

“It is clear that these experiences, working closely with an engaged faculty member, have been a powerful influence on her students,” says Devine.

Saffran has been actively involved as a mentor in the Undergraduate Research Scholars program and has worked closely with students in the Psychology Research Experiences Program, which is designed to bring to the campus excellent students from groups that are underrepresented in academia.

She developed the innovative Undergraduate Teaching Fellows program in her department. It provides students with the opportunity to get academic leadership experience by leading their peers in optional discussion sections for Saffran’s course on child psychology.

Writing in support of her nomination, Erik Thiessen, one of Saffran’s former graduate students and now an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, says that Saffran taught him that “teaching is as important a part of being a university professor as research is and one is incomplete without the other.”

“Jenny has devoted her professional career to creating knowledge, but also to passing that knowledge on and giving others the tools to create knowledge themselves. This is the ideal of being a professor that I am trying to live up to,” writes Thiessen.