David C. Parkes awarded Harvard College Professorship

Parkes one of five rewarded for excellence in teaching

Computer scientist David C. Parkes is one of five members in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences rewarded for excellence in teaching.

David C. Parkes, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science in the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has been awarded a Harvard College Professorship.

The Professorships are an effort to recognize the teaching efforts in Harvard classrooms. Established in 1997 through a gift from John and Frances Loeb, they consist of a 5-year appointment and provide a semester of paid leave or summer salary for use in research or scholarly activity.

Past SEAS faculty who have also held the honor include Harry Lewis, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science; Michael Brenner, Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics; Margo Seltzer, Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science; and Stuart Shieber, James O. Welch, Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science.

Parkes' focus is on computational mechanism design, investigating distributed optimization problems in light of uncooperative, self-interested entities.The Professorship will allow him to extend his sabbatical and complete a new textbook on the subject of economics and computation.

Teaching in a manner that results in strong understanding is important to Parkes.

“I encourage students to think actively and ask questions and stop me where there is confusion," he said. "I teach with a view to everyone in the class being able to understand the material and get something out of the material."

"It is essential that the faculty of leading universities bring more than just facts and raw knowledge to the classroom,” he added. “We need to work to convey a deeper understanding and a point of view, a mental model with which to understand different concepts and the way that they fit together.”

Parkes also emphasizes that teaching is a two-way street.

“This whole enterprise would simply not be possible in the same way without the ability to experience teaching and interacting with such a fantastic body of students,” he added. “I think that we need to remember that what makes Harvard truly great is the strength of our undergraduate body. It is an exciting and rewarding experience to be able to share new ideas, both in terms of the pleasure of teaching new things and the energy and enthusiasm that reflects back from students and motivates me to think about and understand concepts in new ways."

Professorships were also awarded to Daniel Kahne, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology; Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History; Jorie Graham, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory; and Diana Eck, Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society and Master of Lowell House.

Topics: Academics, Dean, Computer Science