Victor Lieberman always sets aside 10 minutes near the end of his lecture to answer questions. But when a student in his class on Arab-Israeli conflict raised his hand and asked if Lieberman liked golden apples, he was confused.
He quickly realized he was the 2014 Golden Apple Award winner — the only student-selected teaching award — after 10 other students, all holding two gold-painted apples each, approached him with balloons and flowers.
Created by Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching, the award honors undergraduate and graduate faculty members who continuously seek to engage students in the classroom. Winners are asked to give a lecture as if it is their last, and Lieberman will deliver his at the Golden Apple Award Ceremony at 6 p.m. April 2 at Rackham Auditorium.
“The fact that it’s called my last lecture makes me feel like I should be walking straight from the podium into the grave,” jokes Lieberman, a Raoul Wallenberg Distinguished University Professor of History and professor of Asian and comparative history.
“It’s a huge incentive to continue pouring energy and time into lecture preparation. I enjoy interacting with undergraduates quite a bit,” says Lieberman, who called his two daughters, both U-M grads, as soon as his class ended to tell them the news.
Also during the April 2 ceremony, President Mary Sue Coleman will be presented with the first-ever Golden Apple Award for Outstanding University Leadership. She will give a short talk on what it means to be a leader at the university before Lieberman’s lecture.
Lieberman, who prefers to lecture sans PowerPoint because he likes to make eye contact with his students as he’s speaking, is working quickly to write his lecture before the award ceremony.
“I thought about doing a synopsis on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I thought it might be too disquieting, so I’m going to give ‘What I Think I Know about History.’ It’ll be an overview of how I see human history in the last few thousands of years,” says Lieberman.
Although Lieberman teaches a class on Arab-Israeli relations, his focus area is in Southeast Asian history. He used to teach a course on the Vietnam War, but enrollment dropped after the Cold War ended.
“I had gotten addicted to large, topical courses, and when I saw Vietnam wasn’t going to hold interest, I started looking around for other topics. I always had a knowledge and interest in Middle East history and devoted a few years to doing research on it,” says Lieberman.
What does he think makes a good teacher?
“First, an intense interest in the subject. Second, the ability to understand the mental world of your students. What would interest them? Third, you have to like your students. And I do like mine.”