When Syed Ali, director of LSA’s South Asian Language Program, joined Pinderjeet Gill’s Punjabi class on April 12, Gill thought he was going to conduct a survey of her students.
But soon, more faces started appearing on the Zoom screen.
They were Gill’s colleagues and students, all there to surprise her with an announcement: She was receiving the 31st Golden Apple Award.
“Thank you so much. Thank you. You’re all my motivation — all of my students, all of my colleagues,” said Gill, a lecturer II in Asian languages and cultures.
The Golden Apple Award recognizes outstanding teaching. It is the university’s only teaching award bestowed by students.
Recipients are invited to give the lecture they would want to give if it were the last one of their careers. Gill’s lecture will be in October.
Gill has taught Punjabi and Hindi at U-M since 2005. She is also an author, writing the 2015 book “Conversational Punjabi” to help her students learn the language.
She is a favorite among students because of her hard work, kindness, enthusiasm for the subjects she teaches and dedication to helping students succeed.
During the Zoom surprise, Emily McCann, president of the Golden Apple Committee, read comments about Gill that were submitted by students.
“Professor Gill is not only a wonderful teacher, you can truly tell she cares about all of her students,” one student said. “She is very passionate about the material she teaches us and makes me want to continue my efforts in the subject post-graduation. She makes the classroom environment very collaborative and fun.”
Another student said: “Dr. Gill is the most accommodating and thoughtful professor I have had during my time at U-M, which is why I believe she deserves recognition as outstanding teacher of the year.”
On the nomination form for the award, students are asked to explain why they are nominating a particular teacher. This year, the committee added another question about how teachers have been supportive during the pandemic.
“Many student nomination form comments about Dr. Gill mentioned how understanding and supportive she has been during COVID-19, and she truly puts students’ mental health first,” McCann said. “From the comments, we could tell she has strong relationships with many of her students and tries her best to accommodate all students in her class to make sure they thrive.”
When McCann told Gill of her award, Gill smiled widely and covered her mouth with her hand in surprise.
She said she was overwhelmed, grateful and humbled.
“Thank you. I really appreciate it,” she said. “My heart is pounding, and honestly, it’s not possible without all your help. I have wonderful, wonderful colleagues. Everybody is so supportive: LRC (Language Resource Center) staff, everybody in the department, my own department.
“I say thank you so much for all of you, especially all my students. They’re my passion. It’s not possible without them.”
Ali said Gill is a terrific colleague and educator.
“We are proud to have a teacher like her, and our program is fortunate to have her as a teacher, as a colleague, as a friend, as a caring person for the students, for teachers, for everyone in the department,” he said.