Christopher Peterson, Arthur F. Thurnau Prof. of psychology, was honored with the Golden Apple Award for outstanding teaching last night at Rackham Auditorium.
Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching presented the 20th annual award to Peterson, in conjunction with the University of Michigan Hillel and Apple Inc.
S.H.O.U.T. Chair Eytan Shtull-Leber, who spoke at the event, said the Golden Apple Award is an achievement reserved for teachers who treat each lecture as if it were their last.
Though Peterson was given the honor of delivering his ideal last lecture after winning the award, Peterson called the talk he delivered last night “The First Lecture.”
“People are also pulled by the future,” Peterson said. “A first lecture is necessarily one that looks ahead. It is necessarily one that takes us into the future.”
David Brandon, in his second day as the University’s Athletic Director, offered greetings to the crowd of about 100, and congratulated Peterson on behalf of the University.
“Our university is not only an academic institution; it is a campus that is devoted to the holistic growth of our students,” Brandon said. “Great teachers like Chris Peterson are passionate about making an impact on their students’ lives.”
Peterson was introduced by Nansook Park, an associate professor of psychology at the University, who said Peterson had earned the nickname “Mother Theresa” in the Psychology Department because of his kindness.
“Chris is a great teacher not because he is perfect, but because he never stops trying to be a better one,” Park said.
Park added that in addition to Peterson’s commitment to teaching, he is one of the top 100 cited psychologists in the world.
Psychology Prof. Albert Cain also spoke before Peterson gave his lecture and said Peterson has deservedly received so many awards, adding with a laugh that the University may soon consider imposing a limit.
Peterson started his lecture by acknowledging the previous awards he has won, but said the Golden Apple Award is by far the most meaningful to him. The recipient of the Golden Apple Award is chosen from a pool of nominations made by students.
“This is not one of the prestigious awards at the University of Michigan, this is the prestige award,” Peterson said.
During his lecture, Peterson said all University professors deserve apples and proceeded to throw apples to his colleagues in the audience.
Peterson, who is considered a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, said while he may be associated with positive psychology, he wouldn’t talk shop during his lecture.
But Peterson did speak briefly about his area of expertise, encouraging all students to go one day without using the word “but” and all of its similes, a technique called active constructive responding.
“How we respond to good news that is given to us is what predicts our relationships better than how we respond to bad news,” he said.
Peterson said though he’s grateful for the award, he thinks there is a great importance in students learning from each other.
“I think it’s great that you’re honoring me as a teacher tonight,” Peterson said. “But who are we kidding? Students will always learn more from each other than they ever will learn from their professors.”
Peterson also talked about his work on the Fall 2010 LSA Theme Semester called, “What makes life worth living?” He said he hopes the semester will focus on art, music, literature, religion and, above all, service to others.
Park said one of Peterson’s greatest qualities is his ability to give so much to his students, noting that he even gives advice to strangers when the two travel together to give academic speeches. When she asked him how he could give so much of himself he said it’s because it’s the right thing to do.
“Other people matter,” Peterson repeated throughout the lecture. “Other people matter and we are all other people to everyone else.”
LSA junior Huey Cheng, a former student of Peterson, said though he enjoyed the lecture, he thinks just one lecture doesn’t fully demonstrate Peterson’s exceptional teaching style.
“It’s hard to sum up everything that he gave throughout the entire semester in just one small lecture,” Cheng said.