Cultivating a Unique Teaching Environment
English professor Aparajita Nanda’s teaching style and commitment to students is recognized with the David E. Logothetti Teaching Award
By Laney Robbins '20
When asked, many students can point to a certain professor or course that resonates with them long after they graduate from Santa Clara University. Aparajita Nanda (English) has been cited by many as this professor and, unsurprisingly, has taught a plethora of impactful classes. In recognition of her work, Nanda was honored with the 2019-20 David E. Logothetti Teaching Award. Given to a professor who motivates and inspires other teachers and learners, this award honors those whose teaching style has proved to be engaging and effective.
In the classroom, Nanda has stretched the minds of students and expanded perspectives across many subjects from science, technology, and ethics to race and ethnicity to film, gender, and sexuality. Exploring this wide range of topics requires critical thinking, sharing of perspectives, and self-application in ways that some students have never been exposed to before. Because of this, she does not conform to a traditional teaching style. She sees herself not as a teacher, but as a facilitator and describes the atmosphere of her classroom as a participatory, warm environment. She sees the impact on her students of “another world out there that’s opening up for them,” and simply states, “I’m here to open the gates.”
The humility with which Nanda acknowledges her award is key to her character and serves as an important ingredient in the classroom environment she creates. Responding to praise by showing appreciation and admiration for her students, Nanda says she “lives to learn from (them),” and is delighted when students provide a new perspective on texts, or raise points that she hadn’t thought of yet. She says of her position, “I am just a voice among so many voices.”
Her open and collaborative class dynamic carries impact that lasts. Students get personally involved in their own learning processes, which Nanda says turns the relationship into more of a friendship, tackling the text and assignments together.
“We did a lot of group work,” says former student Sam Suri ’19 (Computer Science). “You had to collaborate, discuss, and share perspectives. In her class, she exposed us to the material and asked us openly, ‘What’s your perspective?’ There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer. You interpret all these different media and come to your own conclusion by applying your own perspective to it.”
A multi-media approach to teaching in addition to challenging students to apply their own perspectives brings about transformational experiences in the classroom. Suri said of Nanda’s Intro to South Asian Experience in the U.S. course, “One thing that I really appreciated was that Dr. Nanda focused on a broad range of different media to absorb—short stories, movies, and research on different authors in the U.S.—in order to fully understand the experience of a South-Asian person living in America.” The sharing and understanding of an entire cultural experience in 10 weeks is no easy feat, but Nanda accomplishes exactly this with each new cohort.
Throughout her career, Nanda has brought her unique teaching style with her, from India to Germany, to Salzburg, Ann Arbor, and ultimately, Santa Clara. Occasionally surprised by the sameness she feels between classroom environments, regardless of where she is in the world, Nanda notes that “we human beings are all the same.”
Regarding Santa Clara, Nanda says, “This is home. I’m not teaching—I’m doing the thing I love best.” Her holistic approach to teaching and learning is not lost on students. “She wasn’t there just to do research or just to publish,” says Suri. “She actually cares about her students, and I think that shows.”
About the Award
The David E. Logothetti Teaching Award is given in recognition for having established among colleagues and students a well-deserved reputation for an energetic, engaging, and effective teaching style, and having demonstrated the ability to motivate other teachers and learners.