Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs

Background of the Award

Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Background of the Award

Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award, sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center, is presented as a surprise in the faculty member’s classroom, with the GSIs and other departmental faculty and staff present.

Robert Sharf of East Asian Languages and Cultures is one of four faculty members who received the award in April 2018. Jeffrey Reimer, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chair of the Graduate Council’s Faculty Committee for GSI Affairs, presented the award plaque.

The excerpts below reflect mentoring activities that the GSI found especially effective.

Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Professor Sharf’s GSIs state that teaching with Professor Sharf is “a joy, not least because Prof. Sharf includes and empowers us at every step. Even before the classroom teaching begins he sends out a draft of the syllabus, asking for both our feedback and any recommendations for additional readings. Throughout the semester, he meets with GSIs every week as a group in order to discuss students’ assignments, the direction of the course, and our own morale. In these meetings one feels like a colleague.”

His GSIs also appreciate the respect Prof. Sharf demonstrates for their contributions to the course. They write:

“Prof. Sharf empowers GSIs by deferring to their judgement in certain crucial ways, particularly around grading decisions. He never undermines our position as GSIs by unilaterally questioning our grading decisions with the students. In generating the final version of a test, he always includes the GSIs in the decision-making process. The opportunity to draft questions together with Prof. Sharf and then select the best options allows GSIs to share their perspectives on what material should be highlighted on an exam, what the students are best prepared for, and how the exam can effectively contribute to students’ overall learning. This is not to say Prof. Sharf always agrees with us when it comes to the final wording of a question, but these minor disagreements also create a sense of working together as a team.”

GSIs also value Prof. Sharf’s commitment to their own growth and development:

“If they are intrested, Prof. Sharf also gives GSIs the opportunity to design and present a lecture of their own in which they can integrate some of their own research and expertise into the main content of the course. Ultimately, these opportunities all contribute to the GSIs’ investment in the class and longterm professional development.”

GSIs also highlight the outstanding quality of Prof. Sharf’s teaching and the impressive outcomes he is able to have his students achieve:

“As the instructor of record for the popular “Introduction to the Study of Buddhism,” Prof. Sharf is known for inspiring a passion in his undergraduate students. A skilled lecturer, he often holds large classes of a hundred or more students spellbound. In response to his carefully designed assignments and readings, undergraduates’ writing and critical thinking skills improve by leaps and bounds over the course of the semester.”

While Prof. Sharf goes to great lengths to make GSIs feel like respected members of a team, he never forgets his own unique responsibilities as the Instructor of Record. His GSIs note that

“When it comes to issues that require decisive action or decisions that might be unpopular (though necessary) among students, Prof. Sharf always takes the lead. He has tremendous integrity when it comes to enforcing course policies, primarily around issues such as the use of cell-phones in class and plagiarism. …In the ways he handles difficult situations related to teaching such as plagiarism, Prof. Sharf also provides an excellent example for GSIs to emulate.”

In sum, his GSIs write:

“Like the best of mentors, he has the ability to recognize and draw forth potentials in his students that they themselves are not yet aware of. As GSIs with years of collective teaching experience at UC Berkeley, we are confident that few instructors are more deserving of this Faculty Award than Robert Sharf.”

Congratulations, Professor Sharf!