Benjamin Hescott awarded Professor of the Year by TCU Senate

Benjamin Hescott, Associate Professor of Computer Science, poses for a portrait in Halligan Hall on May 5. Jiaxun Li / The Tufts Daily

Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate selected Benjamin Hescott, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, to receive the annual Professor of the Year Award, a prize distributed based on informal interviews and student nominations. Hescott’s name will be added to a plaque in the Mayer Campus Center, which lists all of the previous winners of the award.

Hescott’s previous teaching honors include membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, the 2011 Computer Science and Engineering Undergraduate Teaching Award and the 2013 Tufts Graduate Student Council Award for Outstanding Faculty Contribution to Graduate Studies.  

“I’ve been lucky enough to win multiple awards in the past, but to win [Professor of the Year] directly from students … makes me very happy,” Hescott said.

The selection process for the honoree began with a campus-wide email asking undergraduates for nominations by March 9, according to TCU Senate Education Committee Chair Rati Srinivasan.

“The nomination form for Professor of the Year was simple and open-ended — it asked for the name of the nominee, their department and a description of why they should receive this award,” Srinivasan, a rising junior, told the Daily in an email.

She said that a group of TCU senators then ranked each of the 48 nominees on a scale between one and five, and after spring break, the three top-ranked nominees were interviewed by members of the TCU Education Committee.

“The goal of the interviews was to have more of an informal discussion than a formal interview, and everyone on [the] Education Committee had a wonderful time meeting these outstanding and inspiring professors,” Srinivasan said.

After the interview round, Hescott emerged as the winner, Srinivasan said.

Education Committee member and TCU Senator Chris Leaverton explained that Hescott’s dedication to his students was immediately apparent and impressive.

“I will say that from the first few minutes of our interview, it was clear to me that Professor Hescott prioritized his students above everything else,” rising sophomore Leaverton said. “I was amazed by his kindness, humor and commitment to excellence … What struck me most was the importance he placed on adapting to the students in his classes.”

Hescott said that “teaching the class you have” is a key aspect of his teaching philosophy.

“Often people teach in order to primarily cover the syllabus they have in mind, but I think everyone has different preparation and skills,” Hescott said. “I focus more on people in the room, versus regimented topics.”

He explained that he draws on feedback from his students to best cater the course curriculum to the specific group of students.

“I draw [on the] participation of [the] class and listen to what they say; this is very important,” Hescott said. “Then, I teach only 75 percent of the material, I cut 25 percent of it.”

Beyond the classroom, Hescott also said that he enjoys conducting research with students.

“I really like doing research with undergrads,” Hescott said. “I was initially very passionate about physics and astronomy, but then I majored in mathematics; therefore, I like different areas of research and like engaging students in ways they like. I prefer students who come with a variety of interests.”

One of these students is Taher Mun, one of Hescott’s research advisees, who said that Hescott has an unwavering commitment to his students.

“There are times when I come into his office trying to figure out a research problem, and he drops everything he’s doing and directs his full attention at me in order to help me solve the problem,”  Mun, a graduating senior, told the Daily in an email.

Other students like graduating senior Carly Reilly praised Hescott’s enthusiasm for the material he teaches.

Ben is an incredible teacher in large part because his enthusiasm for the material is so palpable it becomes infectious,” Reilly told the Daily in an email. “He has endless energy, which makes what are fairly dense, theoretical topics more lively and interesting. It also helps that he’s super freaking funny and entertaining.”