Bonnie Bassler Recognized for Outstanding Teaching

June 7, 2013

Four Princeton faculty members received President's Awards for Distinguished Teaching at Commencement ceremonies June 3.

They are: Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology; Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science; Marie Griffith, professor of religion; and Nicole Shelton, associate professor of psychology.

The awards were established in 1991 through gifts by Princeton alumni Lloyd Cotsen '50 and John Sherrerd '52 to recognize excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching by Princeton faculty members. Each winner receives a cash prize of $5,000, and his or her department receives $3,000 for the purchase of new books.

A committee of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and academic administrators selected the winners from nominations by current students, faculty colleagues and alumni.

Bassler, who came to Princeton in 1994, co-teaches a popular and highly successful introductory molecular biology course, "From DNA to Human Complexity," for humanities students. "Bonnie's wit, energy and enthusiasm are palpable, but underlying these overt actions is a deep commitment to engaging students in understanding science," wrote one colleague in nominating her for the award.

An alumna who took that class wrote, "We were not a classroom of future research scientists or doctors, and Dr. Bassler, along with the other instructors, made every effort to demonstrate how molecular biology had relevance to our lives too, as future writers, lawyers, artists, historians, etc. -- and, most importantly, as future citizens. With debates over stem cell research, genetic engineering, the teaching of evolution and other biological topics in the news almost every day, I have continued to draw upon the knowledge I gained from MOL 101 to make sense of the issues facing our society."

Bassler also leads a course for graduate students on "Advanced Microbial Genetics" and has served for the past five years as the department's director of graduate studies. She has worked to broaden and revamp the graduate curriculum to include new areas such as quantitative biology and neurobiology. In her classroom and in her lab -- which investigates bacterial signaling -- she has served as a mentor to many students.

"What really struck me was the energy and enthusiasm she had for the subject matter, even when describing elementary principles of biology," wrote one graduate student who served as a teaching assistant for MOL 101. "As for the laboratory portion of the course, she spent her time designing experiments that were interesting and fun for students who had little prior exposure to the lab."

Another graduate student, who was a member of Bassler's lab for four years, wrote, "Not only did Bonnie teach me how to think critically, she taught me to think creatively and to work with diligence and optimism. In the laboratory, Bonnie taught by example. If I gave 100 percent, Bonnie always gave 110 percent."