Rice CS faculty members Rodrigo Ferreira and Rebecca Schreib were both named finalists this year for Phi Beta Kappa’s Sophia Meyer Farb Prize for Teaching. This honor highlights top-rated, early-career faculty across the university.
The prize is open to current assistant professors and assistant teaching professors. In determining the finalists, the voting committee considers the numerical teaching and course evaluations for the past two years as well as their scores across a variety of courses.
Computer science faculty member John Greiner, who has been teaching at Rice for more than twenty years, serves as the chair of the award committee. He’s also a long-time Engineering Divisional Advisor and has helped develop new curricula for the department's undergraduate and graduate degree programs. When discussing the award nominees and the written evaluations for the finalists, he said, “We're looking for consistently positive comments, but especially ones that are superlative or indicate a significant impact upon students.”
Ferreira is an Assistant Teaching Professor in Computer Science, where he teaches courses in technology and ethics to undergraduate and graduate students and is responsible for developing ethics-related curricula across the department. In collaboration with University Professor Moshe Vardi, he developed “Deep Tech Ethics” as a pedagogical approach that seeks to orient computer science education toward greater focus on affective care, historical power inequalities, and social justice. As of earlier this year, he also has a courtesy appointment in the Department of Philosophy.
Schreib is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Computer Science. She completed her Ph.D. in Computer Science at Rice in 2019 under the supervision of Professor Scott Rixner. Her doctoral research focused on designing tools and techniques for providing personalized and interactive learning experiences within large introductory computer science courses. She also completed her B.S. (2014) and M.S. (2015) in Computer Science at Rice, with a focus on computer systems.
Schreib teaches Computational Thinking and Intro to Program Design as well as advanced courses on Programming for Data Science, Pedagogy for Computer Science and a Practicum in College Teaching.
When discussing her nomination, Schreib said, “I view being a finalist for this award as recognition that my efforts are having a meaningful impact on my students, and that's the best recognition that I can ask for.”
“My approach to teaching is very student-centered. A big part of this is the structure of my courses, which make heavy use of active learning. Most of the courses that I teach focus on building skills — things like problem-solving, programming, design, and most recently teaching — and I believe that these skills are best developed through hands-on practice. It's also really important to me that my students feel supported in their learning, so I encourage questions and aim to make myself very approachable. I think my students can see that I'm excited to help them learn, and this helps motivate them.”
Ferreira attributes being a finalist to the open and collective environment in his classroom, where CS students discuss the growing number of questions they have about the relationship between ethics and technology. “Students have shown up with eagerness to participate and to learn more about developing technology in ways that are more socially responsible. I’ve always believed that what makes a classroom special is the creative dialogue that emerges both between teacher and students and between students.”
“One thing that I feel that stands out for students is the diverse, multidisciplinary framework with which we approach topics in class,” he said. “Students sometimes come to class prepared to meet questions with a highly specialized technical mindset. We talk about how the social questions surrounding technology development today are precisely that – not only technical, but socio-technical problems – and therefore requiring socio-technical thinking.”
“While Rice has a number of teaching awards, this is the only one that is focused on early career faculty,” said Greiner. “So, it can be an important recognition when a faculty member most needs it.”
Ferreira and Schreib follow in the footsteps of Rice CS’ Luay Nakhleh who received the Sophia Meyer Farb Prize for Teaching in 2009. Nakhleh went on to become the Chair of the Department of Computer Science and is currently the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering.
The 2023 winner of the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award was Brittany Utting, from Rice’s Department of Architecture.