Nina Emery Awarded Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

Nina’s teaching consistently challenges students to push the boundaries of what they believe is possible.

What’s the difference between the future and the past? What, if anything, exists outside of the present? How do we know if the laws of nature are truly laws? If you have noticed students wandering campus, deep in thought, pondering such metaphysical questions, chances are they are Nina Emery’s students. Nina, our resident expert in philosophy of science, challenges students to ask big questions about big things: space, time, relativity, existence, and morality.

As an undergraduate at Cornell, Nina double-majored in philosophy and physics. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from MIT, was a visiting student at Oxford and held an appointment at Brown University. Despite these humble beginnings (!), Nina is an accomplished scholar and masterful teacher. Her distinguished scholarship record includes numerous peer-reviewed publications, books, and media appearances. She is currently working on her first book – a project on methodological naturalism. 

Here at Mount Holyoke, Nina engages students in deeply compelling philosophical questions that underlie critical scientific and societal issues. Her course on Time explores relativity theory, causation, determinism, and free will. In Science and Human Values, Nina’s students investigate how moral problems arise from advances in science and technology, grappling with genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, euthanasia, and more. Her courses on Logical Thought and Public Philosophy aim to strengthen students’ reasoning and writing skills while also teaching them to make philosophy accessible to broad audiences.

Students rave about Nina, describing her as “phenomenal,” “incredible,” “inspiring,” “fabulous,” “funny and fun,” and “super cool!” They credit Nina with igniting a lasting love of philosophy. One student noted that Nina “makes you fall in love with the major with just one course.” Students in Nina’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics course appreciate how hard Nina’s courses are to teach, praising her acrobatic ability to engage philosophy students in the technicalities of quantum mechanics while also engaging physics students in philosophical reasoning. “She is brilliant, passionate, and a highly effective teacher who can explain anything,” writes one student. “She has a way of making the most complicated concepts comprehensible. Philosophy of quantum mechanics is hard--really hard--but she makes it doable.”

Nina’s teaching consistently challenges students to push the boundaries of what they believe is possible. Students report feeling motivated to do their “absolute best on every assignment,” and that Nina made them examine not only what they think but how they think. Indeed, Nina’s teaching evaluations are brimming with evidence of her remarkable ability to balance rigor and support. Students appreciate Nina for holding them accountable without lowering standards. One student reported that, although philosophy is full of “unsolved mysteries… Nina is like our safety net who holds us from falling into confusion.” Nina inspires growth in her students, fostering not only their reasoning and writing skills but also their self-efficacy and worth ethics. “I learned how to be humble and work for something,” wrote one student, a sentiment that would no doubt make Mary Lyon very proud.

Despite her long track record of excellence in teaching, Nina doesn’t rest on her laurels. She is currently one of Mount Holyoke’s TLI Faculty Fellows, researching self-grading as a pedagogical practice. Nina’s commitment to innovation in teaching, her investment in her students, and her dedication to advancing links between science, society, and metaphysics are among the many reasons we are lucky to count Nina among our ranks. Please join me in honoring Nina Emery with the Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching.