10 Most Inspiring Professors at UC Berkeley

By  |  0 Comments

Whoever said “those who can’t do, teach,” must have gotten their playtime taken away one too many times in preschool. To successfully impart knowledge unto others takes some of the most capable minds in the world. These capable minds at Berkeley have engaging lectures, clear student work requirements and personability. Sudents walk away from the classes these professors lead feeling enlightened and ready to face more academic challenges. Dozens of professors at UC Berkeley meet this requirement, but after discussing the subject with students across the campus, as well as factoring in outside resources, such as teaching awards and even RateMyProfessor.com, we have narrowed the list down to the top ten professors at UC Berkeley.

These 10 professors at UC Berkeley deserve whole apple trees on their desks for being the best.

1. Namwali Serpell, English

Zambian-born author Namwali Serpell’s decorated literary career is only one of many reasons why students are lucky to learn from her. Her lectures combine personal experience with a clear passion for the written word. “I want my students to read,” Professor Serpell said. “I mean that in the basic sense. I want them to read the books I assign, which I believe are worth their time. And I mean that in the highest, most aspirational sense. I want them to see reading as a vast, various ocean, one in which most of us have barely dipped a toe, and in which we could spend a whole happy lifetime swimming, snorkeling, diving, floating…” Indeed, Serpell has successfully imbued hundreds of students with her bibliophilia. Serpell inspires outside the classroom with her award-winning short stories and her award-sharing morals. When Serpell won the Caine Prize in 2015, she split the $15,000 prize money with her competitors, saying, “Fiction is not a competitive sport.” Her students probably wanted a cut, but took the life lesson as valuable enough instead. 

2. John Denero, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

Let’s be honest, majoring in STEM takes a student that hates fun—I mean, loves studying hard—and students need professors like John Denero to guide them through the rigors of such a competitive education. Famous for his ability to handle enormous class sizes (1,500 students or more) Denero lectures in a clear, fun and easy to follow manner. “Denero is amazingly perceptive on how students like to learn,” UC Berkeley junior Christine Diem-Anh Nguyen said. “He has essentially set up this giant system of resources that students can use, and on top of that, he’s just an incredible, funny, sweet, quirky and humble individual who understands how students feel.” For students considering a career in data or computer science, Denero can start you off with a fire for fireware.

3. Laleh Behbehanian, Sociology

Professor Behbehanian can transform a complex or frustrating subject into something that both fascinates and endlessly entertains. She memorizes the names of all her students and positively influences the lives of anyone who enters one of her classrooms. “Professor Behbehanian is passionate about the subjects she teaches and inspires us students to the fullest degree,” UC Berkeley junior Brittany Kulusich said. “I have never come across a professor who is as dedicated as she is in making sure our time at UC Berkeley is fulfilling and worthwhile.” Her passion will make you want to leave your Netflix behind and go to lecture: Incredibly intelligent and moving sociologist or the third season of a show you’ve watched 50 times? You decide. 

4. Terry Johnson, Bioengineering

If you ask anyone in Berkeley’s bioengineering department to name one professor you have to take, nine times out 10 they will name Terry Johnson. “Terry Johnson goes out of his way to help various organizations despite his busy schedule,” UC Berkeley senior Phil Kim said. “He’s also a great lecturer and simply a great personality to talk to and get to know.” Johnson’s name perks up ears not only in his department but on the Cal campus in general, for both his warm personality and his ability to illuminate the enticing side of one of the most complicated subjects academics has to offer. A recipient of the 2013 UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award, Johnson’s level-headed lectures stick with you longer than the fight against your own clone (a research interest of his).

5. Ula Taylor, African American Studies

One of the premiere professors in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley, Ula Taylor gains respect from her teaching and extracurricuar authorship. She is the second African American woman in university history to win the Distinguished Professor Teaching Award, reflecting her ability to impart a profound knowledge of her discipline while maintaining fantastic relationships with her students. You might attribute her success as a professor to her simple teaching philosophy. She said “preparedness and passion” make for a good teacher. From Taylor’s brilliance to her innate kindness, any college student would be lucky to get woke with her.

6. Darren Zook, Political Science

“Zook is a great professor because his passion in teaching directly translates to how enjoyable his lectures are,” UC Berkeley junior Langston Harris said. Professor Zook possesses the rare ability to balance his passion for the subject with his passion for teaching. In other words, you won’t have to sit through a long-winded rant about his personal hobbies, but at the same time you can tell that poli-sci means the world to him. Students who take Zook’s political science classes frequently finish the semester with an entirely new perspective on modern societies and politics in general. Zook will actually make you feel disappointed when class ends.

7. Laura Nader, Anthropology

This anthropologist gives future anthropologists something to talk about: she was the first woman to be given tenure in the anthropology department at UC Berkeley. A world-recognized anthropologist, Laura Nader has published numerous influential papers, as well as two award winning books. Her students are almost always inspired to pursue a career in anthropology after taking one of her classes. She manages to combine her intellect with a steady, pragmatic teaching style that keeps students engaged and interested throughout her lectures. Her research on the “harmony ideology” will have you making up with your roommate over your dishes dispute and thinking you did it for the good of society. 

8. Alex Filippenko, Astronomy

A recipient of too many awards and honors to list in a single paragraph, Filippenko is as well known a teacher as he is an outer space intellectual. “I recommend taking Filippenko’s Astro C10 class even if you have no interest in astronomy,” UC Berkeley junior Yahor Yuzefovich said. “Alex will likely change that as he did for me.”  Filippenko will surely continue to fulfill the astronomical dreams of students for generations to come. His teaching might even drive you to horrible puns, like when you brag to your friends about how he’s “out of this world.” Plus, you’ll feel like a star being in the same room as someone who’s been on the History channel that many times. Forget This is Us, I want The Universe.

9. Christina Romer, Economics

We all miss Obama, but this woman comes recommended straight from Barry himself. After the 2008 recession, she co-authored the Obama administration’s recovery plan, and served as Chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers until 2010. Although she has worked as a brilliant economist for the actual POTUS, she still has time and heart to devote to her students, and has changed the lives of students lucky enough to take a class with her. If you want to study the complex ins and outs of economic theory, Romer can teach ’til she’s red, white and blue in the face.

10. Michael Burawoy, Sociology

A well-known author and political theorist, Burawoy also happens to teach as well as he bends capitalist minds. “I am very grateful when he tells us about his experiences doing research in Zambia,” UC Berkeley junior Erika Castano said. “He makes us feel that sociology is alive and capable of changing the world.” After years of influencing conversations about class systems, labor and the politics of economic systems, Burawoy has turned his attention to improving how people teach these topics. That’s right: he teaches so well that he teaches how to teach. 

Selden Cummings is a junior at UC Berkeley. He likes to do all the things you like to do.

Enter our Monthly Giveaway

Win $100 for YOU & $100 for your student org. Sign up to enter our monthly giveaway.