Rocco Servedio Wins 2020 Great Teacher Award

Sep 04 2020

This past February, the Society of Columbia Graduates’ Board of Directors selected the honorees for its 2020 Great Teacher Award. Established in 1949, the award is given annually to one or more Columbia College and Columbia Engineering professors based on their abilities to stimulate, challenge, and inspire undergraduate students; their demonstrated interest in students and their ability to relate positively to students outside the classroom; and their recognized standing in their respective academic disciplines.

Rocco Servedio, professor and chair of computer science, was chosen to receive the 2020 award from the School of Engineering and Applied Science. His research focuses on computational learning theory and computational complexity. He is particularly interested in foundational questions of understanding what types of learning problems have—and do not have—computationally efficient algorithms. A major goal of his research is the design and analysis of computationally efficient algorithms for challenging learning problems involving noisy data and complex target functions. A related interest is the study of “low-level” computational models such as decision trees, shallow circuits, and low-degree polynomials. Servedio was a National Science Foundation (NSF) Mathematical Sciences postdoc at Harvard before joining Columbia in 2003. He has received an NSF Career Award and a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and his research is supported by DARPA, Google, and the NSF. Servedio received his AB in mathematics and PhD in computer science from Harvard.

Farah Jasmine Griffin, professor and chair of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies, is the award recipient from Columbia College. She is also an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Jazz Studies. Griffin came to Columbia in 2001 from her tenured position at the University of Pennsylvania, and her major fields of interest are American and African American literature, music, and history. She is widely published on issues of race and gender, feminism, jazz, and culture politics, and she has collaborated on two theatrical projects. The first, Geri Allen and Friends Celebrate the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo, premiered at the Apollo Theater in May of 2013. The second, A Conversation with Mary Lou, premiered at Harlem Stage in March 2014 and was performed at The John F. Kennedy Center in May 2016. Additionally, Griffin is a frequent radio commentator on political and cultural issues. She received her AB in American History from Harvard and her PhD in American Studies from Yale.

The Society’s thanks for helping to select two exemplars of great teaching at Columbia go to Glenn Silbert, chair of Columbia Engineering’s Great Teacher Award nominee selection committee; Shih-Fu Chang, Columbia Engineering executive vice dean; Ana Salper and Michael McCarthy, co-chairs of the College Great Teacher Award nominee selection committee; and Lisa Hollibaugh, Columbia College dean of academic affairs.

The recipients of the Great Teacher Awards are usually honored during Alumni Weekend each spring, surrounded by their families, their colleagues, and the deans of the engineering school and the college. This year, however, the planning for the Society’s 71st celebration had to be halted because of the pandemic. The Society hopes to recognize Servedio and Griffin in person at the 2021 reception.

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