Jagu named 2024 recipient of Amherst College's Jeffrey B. Ferguson Memorial Teaching Prize!

Jagu Jagannathan named 2024 recipient of Amherst College's Jeffrey B. Ferguson Memorial Teaching Prize

Congratulations to Jagu on this achievement!

The award was presented to Jagu by Michael A. Elliot, President of Amherst College. Below is the citation and a description of the Jeffrey B. Ferguson Memorial Teaching Prize.

Kannan “Jagu” Jagannathan
Bruce B. Benson ’43 and Lucy Wilson Benson Professor of Physics

Learning about the universe of concepts about which you teach—including the nature of space, time, energy, and matter—can be intimidating, requiring a quantum jump in understanding for some students. However, for more than four decades, with you as their professor, hundreds of Amherst students at all levels have gained greater knowledge of the natural forces, elements, and laws of our world. As a teacher, according to one of your students, you “pull back the curtain to the world of physics”.

A lecturer and raconteur with a remarkable classroom presence, you have been known to describe waves mathematically and physically, while drawing beautiful illustrations in chalk. One colleague commented on the extraordinary ways in which you “weave problem-solving, big themes, historical asides, demonstration experiments, clicker questions, and the occasional joke.” Your talents and skills are paired with careful preparation, a deep commitment to student success, and an openness to experimentation with new pedagogical approaches. Students and colleagues alike have described you as insightful, empathetic, caring, funny, charismatic, rigorous, and supportive.

Admired and beloved as an advisor and mentor, you inspire as well as guide, and your door is always open to students, alumni, and colleagues. Honors students for whom you have served as a thesis advisor describe their experiences as transformative, as do faculty members who have co-taught with you. The connections that you form with your students often continue for a lifetime. Many have gone on to enjoy careers in physics-related fields, including as professors. One such alumnus, now a member of Amherst’s own Department of Physics and Astronomy, offered the following comment as your sometime student: “There is no chance I would be where I am, doing what I am doing, without Jagu’s counsel and presence in my life. Period. And from talking with other alumni I know that I am not alone in this sentiment.”
Equally at home teaching technically challenging courses for majors and first-year seminars for general audiences, you have played a foundational role in developing the physics curriculum at Amherst. You have worked to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging not only in your department, but across the college. 
In recognition of your outstanding teaching and mentorship, the enduring impact that you have had on your students and colleagues, and your myriad contributions to the curriculum and our community, Amherst College is honored to award you the 2024 Jeffrey B. Ferguson Memorial Teaching Prize.

Michael A. Elliot
May 23, 2024

Description of the Prize:
The Jeffrey B. Ferguson Memorial Teaching Prize honors the memory of an accomplished scholar and beloved Amherst College professor. The inaugural Karen and Brian Conway ’80, P’18 Presidential Teaching Professor at the college, Jeff Ferguson taught in the Department of Black Studies for more than two decades. The departmental curriculum that he designed, and his skills and dedication as a teacher, provided the opportunity for countless students to develop foundational intellectual skills that transformed their lives and contributed to their success—during their time at Amherst and beyond. Professor Ferguson enabled students to become close readers and persuasive writers who grounded their scholarly work in sound argumentation and thorough research. The Ferguson Prize is awarded to Amherst faculty members who see teaching as an art and vocation, engage in pedagogical innovation in their courses, have a significant impact in their department or program and on the broader curriculum, help students develop foundational skills in the finest liberal arts tradition, inspire students and colleagues alike to cultivate the life of the mind, and have a lasting impact on students’ intellectual and personal development. Current tenured faculty members, senior lecturers, and senior resident artists are eligible for the prize. The recipient of the prize is announced at the commencement faculty meeting each year and is later expected to give a public talk focusing on teaching. The provost and dean of the faculty solicits nominees for the prize from current students and faculty, and from Amherst alumni. Self-nominations are not accepted. The Faculty Executive Committee selects the prize recipients. Individuals may only receive the prize once.