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Cohan, Ospina and Smolkin honored with 2022 Binswanger Teaching Awards

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Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78, third from left, congratulates the recipients of the 2022 Binswanger Awards for Teaching Excellence. Pictured, left to right, are Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history; Frederick M. Cohan, professor of biology; and María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Each spring, Wesleyan recognizes three outstanding teachers with Binswanger Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

This year’s recipients, who were recognized at the 190th launch ceremony on May 22, include Frederick M. Cohan, professor of biology; María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish; and Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history.

Made possible by donations from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, these awards recognize Wesleyan’s commitment to its faculty-scholars, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education. Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the past 10 classes, as well as current junior, senior, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee made up of professors and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

The biographies of the recipients of the 2022 Binswanger Teaching Excellence Awards are presented below:

Frederick M. Cohan, a professor of biology, has been a member of the Wesleyan faculty since 1986, serving as chair of the Department of Biology from 1999 to 2002 and from 2012 to 2013. He holds a BS in biology from Stanford University, a doctorate from Harvard University in organismal and evolutionary biology – the first doctorate awarded by Harvard’s new department. Cohan was awarded the Huffington Foundation Professorship at the College of the Environment in 2019, a position he continues to hold, and was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering in 2017. He is also chair of the curriculum environmental for the 2021-22 academic year. Professor Cohan teaches various courses at Wesleyan on evolutionary biology, bioinformatics and the effects of global change on infectious disease, while continuing to study the origins of diversity in bacteria. Cohan has received numerous scholarships, participated in symposiums, conducted workshops, is a member of several professional societies, and has authored and co-authored over 100 academic papers throughout his career.

Maria Ospina, an associate professor of Spanish, began teaching in the Department of Romance Languages ​​and Literatures at Wesleyan in 2011. She received a BA in History from Brown University, and an MA and Ph.D. in Hispanic Literatures from the Harvard University, where she was a postdoctoral fellow. She is the author of numerous academic and non-academic articles and has published her first book, El rompecabezas de la memoria: Literatura, cine y testimonio de comienzos de siglo en Colombia (2019), as well as a collection of short stories, Azares del Cuerpo (2017) which has been translated into Italian and English. She has been Chair of the Latin American Studies Program since 2021 and a member of the Vassar-Wesleyan Madrid Program Consortium since 2016. She led the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Madrid in 2017-2018. And since 2012, Ospina has organized the annual Wesleyan Hispanic Film Series which showcases Latin American and Spanish films, while also receiving several grant funds to bring visiting Latin American filmmakers and artists to campus. His courses include: Territories of Inhabitation, Desire and Resistance in Latin America, Youth Projection in Contemporary Latin American Cinema and Writing Short Films in Spanish.

Roth Smolkin
Michael Roth and Victoria Smokekin.

Victoria Smolkin, an associate professor of history, joined the Wesleyan faculty in 2010. She holds a BA in European literature and history from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA and PhD in history from the University from California to Berkeley. Smolkin’s work has been supported by various fellowships and grants, including the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, the Social Science Research Council, and the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship. At Wesleyan, she received the Carol A. Baker ’81 Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research, as well as fellowships, including from the College of the Environment and the Center for the Humanities. She has been invited to speak at conferences, seminars and various symposia around the world on her studies of communism, atheism, religion and ideology in Russia and the former Soviet Union. His first book, A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism (2018), received an honorable mention for the 2019 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize for the most significant contribution of Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies to any discipline in the humanities or social sciences. She is currently working on two projects: “The Wall of Memory: Life, Death and the Impossibility of History” and “The World of Tomorrow: Communism, Cosmism and the Destiny of Utopia”.