Professor In?s Azar may stand a head shorter than most people, but her less- than-average height does not put a limit on the number of students and colleagues who look up to her.
Azar, a professor of Spanish and human sciences, is this year’s recipient of the Trachtenberg Prize for Teaching, an award given to a tenured member of the faculty by University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in memory of his parents. Along with the prestige of the award comes a $1,000 prize.
“It’s a nice way of ending my career here,” said Azar, who will be retiring this year after 35 years at GW.
Azar was humbled and grateful for the acknowledgment.
“It’s great to feel recognized, but I don’t know if anyone can say with absolute tranquility that they deserve a prize,” Azar said.
Only undergraduates can nominate professors for the Trachtenberg Prize for Teaching.
In order to be a recipient, one must be a full-time tenured faculty member and have taught at GW for at least three years.
Elizabeth Anderson, who chairs the selection committee, said there were about two dozen eligible nominees this year. Also sitting on the selection committee were two prior recipients of the award, a member of the Faculty Senate and a member of the Student Association.
“Professor Azar’s nomination packet was extremely strong, with numerous letters of support from colleagues, current and former students, and even students’ parents,” Anderson said in an e-mail. “She has clearly made an enormous impact on her students’ lives, and her nomination materials reflected that.”
A native of Argentina, Azar said she was forced from her country because of the persecution of university professors and students following a coup d’?tat when she was finishing the equivalent of her B.A. She taught her first class at GW in 1971 on Don Quixote, which has since become one of her most popular classes.
“Hers are the only classes I can think of where the level of absences is pretty much zero, and that says a lot,” said senior Marjorie Henriquez, who has taken five courses with Azar.
Senior Melanie Laputka said, “I continue taking classes with her because I enjoyed her high level of expectations and her enthusiasm.”
Sophomore Mark Kennedy believes it can sometimes be intimidating speaking Spanish in class, but Azar is relentless in “pushing everyone to learn.”
“Professor Azar understood my potential and always pushed me, and I was always aware of what was expected of me as a student,” Kennedy wrote in an e-mail. “She truly loves what she teaches and has a phenomenal knowledge base; her enthusiasm definitely rubs off on her students.”
It is not only Azar’s students who benefit from her guidance.
Masha Belenky, assistant professor of French, credits Azar with changing her approach to helping students with their written work. Azar suggested to Belenky that the most important thing in a literature paper is to ask good questions, as opposed to having the correct answer. “It was one of the most insightful moments in my teaching career,” Belenky said.
Azar believes students have helped make her the professional she is today.
“Above all, I am infinitely grateful to GW for having given me, throughout the years, hundreds of intelligent, imaginative and inspiring students to work with,” Azar said. “It is them, really, that have made me the teacher I have become.”