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Saturday, May 25, 2024

History professor wins $40,000 prize

It’s not every day that a teacher is awarded a $40,000 prize in recognition of their scholarly brilliance and inspiring teaching, but for history professor David Biale, winning the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement meant more than just recognition for himself.

“It’s a big recognition. I didn’t expect it,” Biale said. “I feel it’s not just something that’s come to me; it’s really recognition for the great department that my colleagues have created here.”

Biale is the 24th recipient of the prize, which was established in 1986 through the gifts of donors. The endowment, which is managed by the UC Davis Foundation, was created to honor faculty who are exceptional teachers as well as scholars.

Jan Manzi, executive director of development for the UC Davis Foundation, said winners are selected from a pool of candidates nominated based on the recommendations of deans, faculty members, students and research peers.

“Professor Biale was selected for this prestigious prize [based on recommendations],” Manzi said. “He was chosen because he has proven himself to be a dynamic thinker and leader who exemplifies excellence in undergraduate teaching and scholarly achievement.”

One of the recommendations came from George R. Mangun, UC Davis dean of social sciences.

“Professor Biale is well known on campus for his extraordinary scholarship, and immense talent in the classroom – he was a natural for this award,” Mangun said.

Biale plans to give a quarter of his $40,000 prize to his kids, use another quarter for travel and donate half of it back to the history department as a challenge grant for the Fund for the Future of History.

Prior to becoming a professor and chair of the history department at UC Davis, Biale taught at SUNY Binghamton and UC Berkeley. In fact, Biale had no intention of applying when he received a letter advertising a job opening at UC Davis.

“I threw the letter away,” Biale said. “A friend of mine whose wife is in the history department said ‘You’re making a very big mistake,’ so I came up here. I was very impressed by what I saw. It’s a really great department.”

After working at UC Davis since 1999, Biale describes his teaching philosophy as trying to connect ideas in texts to issues that are relevant to his students.

“I try to bring in personal experience and try to connect big stories with individual stories. I think it makes it much more alive for students,” Biale said.

Outside of teaching, Biale is an avid biker of the hills in Berkeley and calls himself a very serious bread baker. He is also passionate about Jewish studies, which is what prompted him to get his doctorate in Jewish history from UCLA.

“It was a personal interest in college, and I was a history major,” Biale said. “And I suddenly realized, why not study in school what I’m interested in outside of school?”

Biale hopes that students who take his classes come away with much more than just the information learned within the classroom.

“I hope to expose them to ideas that they haven’t confronted. If they can’t remember [the information taught in class] a month after the class is over, it’s not important. What’s important is that they are exposed to some remarkable first-hand testimonies,” Biale said.

RACHEL RILEY can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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