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.
Michael Franklin
UChicago CS News

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

Jun 02, 2023
UChicago CS News

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

May 16, 2023
UChicago CS News

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

Apr 14, 2023
UChicago CS News

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

Apr 07, 2023
UChicago CS News

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

Apr 03, 2023
Students posing at competition
UChicago CS News

UChicago Undergrad Team Places Second Overall In Regionals For World’s Largest Programming Competition

Mar 17, 2023
UChicago CS News

Postdoc Alum John Paparrizos Named ICDE Rising Star

Mar 15, 2023
Young students on computers
UChicago CS News

UChicago and NYU Research Team Finds Edtech Tools Could Pose Privacy Risks For Students

Feb 21, 2023
UChicago CS News

Assistant Professor Chenhao Tan Receives Sloan Research Fellowship

Feb 15, 2023
UChicago CS News

UChicago Scientists Develop New Tool to Protect Artists from AI Mimicry

Feb 13, 2023
Garcia sitting in a jet engine
UChicago CS News

Student Spotlight: Gabi Garcia’s Bridge Between CS and Classics

Jan 30, 2023
In the News

Professors Rebecca Willett and Ben Zhao Discuss the Future of AI on Public Radio

Jan 26, 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