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The Carletonian

Prof. Neil Lutsky wins teaching award

<ofessor of Psychology at Carleton College, was the 2011 recipient of the American Psychological Foundation’s Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. Lutsky, who began teaching at Carleton in 1974, also earned the distinction of being the first Minnesota recipient of this prestigious honor.

“It’s satisfying to receive this honor but more humbling still to recognize how fortunate I have been to have taught such outstanding students and to have benefited from inspired and dedicated colleagues at Carleton and in the teaching of psychology community,” said Lutsky.

The award, which has been given out annually since 2000, recognizes “a significant career of contributions as an exceptional teacher of psychology.” In order to be eligible for this honor, one must meet an impressive list of requirements, including: demonstrating influence as a teacher whose students become outstanding psychologists, developing innovative curricula and courses and demonstrating outstanding performance as a teacher in and outside the classroom.

Lutsky, who was nominated by some of his former Carleton students and colleagues within the psychology teaching community, did not always know he wanted to become a teacher. “I was supposed to be a lawyer,” he said, cracking a smile and recalling that his parents had envisioned him in that vocation.

While studying political philosophy as an undergraduate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Lutsky observed that the discipline always seemed to make assumptions about human nature. His curiosity about the subject eventually drew him towards psychology.

“I enjoyed thinking and I enjoyed learning,” he said, expressing how his interest in the workings of the human mind could not be satiated by assumptions alone and that he wanted to discover more about the complexities of human nature.

By his senior year, Lutsky had begun to think about teaching at the college level. He decided to continue his education at Harvard where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D, and was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.

As a graduate student, Lutsky’s initial foray into the world of teaching was less than ideal.

“My first experience teaching was an incredible disaster,” he said, noting that the lecture was not very intellectually stimulating for his students.

But luckily, the experience was short-lived and soon, “a number of positive teaching experiences” initiated what would become a distinguished and rewarding teaching career.
From 1998-99, Lutsky served as the national president of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Division 2 of the American Psychological Association. In 2001, he was the recipient of the Minnesota Psychological Association’s Walter Mink Undergraduate Teacher Award.

Lutsky has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. In addition, he is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association of Psychological Science and served on the Board of Directors of the National Numeracy Network.

When asked how he felt about receiving the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award, Lutsky was quick to point out that his students have been instrumental in his quest to become the best teacher he can be.

“I’ve had wonderful students and their impact on me has been equally indelible,” he said. “Their intellectual curiosity has required me to become a better teacher.
Pamela Bacon ‘93 was one of those students. In addition to enrolling in a number of Lutsky’s classes, Bacon also served as his teaching assistant on two occasions and completed two major research projects under his supervision. She went on to become a psychology professors at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University.
“Neil is a creative teacher who is always developing new ways to teach students,” said Bacon. “He challenges his students to become involved in the material by posing fascinating questions and giving them the intellectual freedom to answer those questions.”

Though the award itself is a great personal honor, Lutsky could not help but draw attention to his students and colleagues once again, saying that the award “has given me an opportunity to thank my students and to thank Carleton.”

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