Zoltán Szabó Receives Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award


The Princeton University chapter of Phi Beta Kappa will present its annual awards for excellence in undergraduate teaching to Agustín Fuentes, professor of anthropology, and Zoltán Szabó, professor of mathematics.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Monday, May 29.

The students outline the criteria for excellence in teaching as skill in instruction, commitment to working with and building relationships with undergraduates, and the ability to spark students’ intellectual interests. Each winner is presented with a plaque.

Students appreciate that along with being one of the most prominent geometric topologists in mathematics, Szabó is also approachable and down-to-earth, with an engaging teaching style.

They are drawn from across the department to his classes, said Oliver Thakar, a member of the Class of 2023 and a math major. Szabó’s graduate-level topics courses “have become surprisingly popular on account of Professor Szabó’s unique insights,” Thakar said. “Undergraduate students from every grade-level, graduate students and postdocs all flock to his inspiring lectures.”

Szabó was as an adviser for his junior paper and senior thesis, and Thakar said the professor routinely takes high numbers of undergraduate advisees. “He is known for always being open to students challenging themselves to find what interests them most,” said Thakar, who has taken three undergraduate classes and two graduate seminars with Szabó.

In class, he explains concepts at a high level but with an informal manner, so “lectures have a very improvisatory feel despite them always being very well-prepared,” Thakar said. A signature way Szabó checks in with students during class, especially for challenging concepts, is to ask them “Is this sort of OK?” “Of course, it always is,” Thakar said.

Szabó joined the Department of Mathematics as an instructor in 1994 after obtaining his Ph.D. at Rutgers University. He spent a year at the University of Michigan before returning to Princeton in 2000. He is a 1990 graduate of Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University.

-Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications