Photo by Jason Smith.
Photo by Jason Smith.

Blase Ur, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Computer Science, was one of five UChicago faculty to receive a 2021 Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award, believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching. 

The awards, which are nominated by students, honor faculty members who provide exceptional teaching and mentorship. In this unusual year, “Students have found inspiration even without traditional classroom settings—guided by faculty who have navigated unusual circumstances with empathy, curiosity and a spirit of collaboration,” said the official announcement.

Ur ascribes his teaching philosophy to a musical experience: playing bass in his high school jazz band. His band teacher believed in “giving students the opportunity to take the reins” from the very start, Ur said, allowing even freshman students to work their way up to leadership roles quickly. In his courses on computer security and privacy, Ur goes beyond technical instruction to encourage his students to debate, find their own research interests and make connections between computer science and broader society.

“I really value engagement with the world and its practical problems, demonstrating how fundamental tools of computer security, privacy, and ethical computing apply to each week’s headline news,” Ur said. “Ultimately, I try to convey that real-world problems often don't have clean solutions. They require approaches at the intersection of coding, math, design, law, philosophy and communications. I think it’s critical for students to see holistically how the modern world works, particularly the role of computation and technology.”

As with jazz, that approach requires improvisation. In courses such as “Introduction to Computer Security” and “Ethics, Fairness, Responsibility & Privacy in Data Science,” Ur constantly refreshes his curriculum with example topics pulled from the headlines—wading into a recent debate about controversial research on operating system security or, last spring, critiquing the design of contact tracing apps for COVID-19.

In both in-person and virtual environments, Ur also values co-teaching because he can debate these issues with a colleague, modeling healthy intellectual disagreement for his students and demonstrating that many foundational topics in applied computer science are not yet settled.

“Blase teaches each of his classes with an infectious enthusiasm for the subject,” a group of his students wrote in a nomination letter. “This helps students engage in discussion of the questions and ethical quandaries he poses far beyond the classroom. He spends countless hours designing brand new assignments that introduce students to crucial tools used in industry, while inspiring us to think about problems more deeply.”

Read about the rest of the 2021 recipients of the Quantrell and Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Awards.

Related News

More UChicago CS stories from this research area.
No Name

NeurIPS 2023 Award-winning paper by DSI Faculty Bo Li, DecodingTrust, provides a comprehensive framework for assessing trustworthiness of GPT models

Feb 01, 2024
Video

Nightshade: Data Poisoning to Fight Generative AI with Ben Zhao

Jan 23, 2024
No Name

UChicago Undergrad Analyzes Machine Learning Models Used By CPD, Uncovers Lack of Transparency About Data Usage

Oct 31, 2023
No Name

Research Suggests That Privacy and Security Protection Fell To The Wayside During Remote Learning

A qualitative research study conducted by faculty and students at the University of Chicago and University of Maryland revealed key...
Oct 18, 2023
No Name

UChicago Researchers Win Internet Defense Prize and Distinguished Paper Awards at USENIX Security

Sep 05, 2023
No Name

UChicago Team Wins The NIH Long COVID Computational Challenge

Jun 28, 2023
No Name

UChicago Assistant Professor Raul Castro Fernandez Receives 2023 ACM SIGMOD Test-of-Time Award

Jun 27, 2023
Michael Franklin
No Name

Mike Franklin, Dan Nicolae Receive 2023 Arthur L. Kelly Faculty Prize

Jun 02, 2023
No Name

Chicago Public Schools Student Chris Deng Pursues Internet Equity with University of Chicago Faculty

May 16, 2023
No Name

PhD Student Kevin Bryson Receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to Create Equitable Algorithmic Data Tools

Apr 14, 2023
No Name

Computer Science Displays Catch Attention at MSI’s Annual Robot Block Party

Apr 07, 2023
No Name

UChicago / School of the Art Institute Class Uses Art to Highlight Data Privacy Dangers

Apr 03, 2023
arrow-down-largearrow-left-largearrow-right-large-greyarrow-right-large-yellowarrow-right-largearrow-right-smallbutton-arrowclosedocumentfacebookfacet-arrow-down-whitefacet-arrow-downPage 1CheckedCheckedicon-apple-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-google-t5icon-office365-t5icon-outlook-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-outlookcom-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-yahoo-t5backgroundLayer 1internal-yellowinternalintranetlinkedinlinkoutpauseplaypresentationsearch-bluesearchshareslider-arrow-nextslider-arrow-prevtwittervideoyoutube