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Brenda Yang 

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology and Neuroscience


Brenda Yang

Brenda Yang is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and neuroscience. She received her bachelor of science in neuroscience and bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Southern California and a Teaching Credential in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University. She has served as an adjunct faculty member at Elon University and a graduate teaching assistant, course coordinator, and guest lecturer at Duke. She has been a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow, involved in the Certificate in College Teaching, and received numerous funding and grant awards. Before coming to Duke, she taught science at Community Charter Early College High School in Los Angeles, through Teach for America.

Her pedagogy is defined by “relentless welcome,” creating a space that allows all students to have positive and impactful experiences. She uses principles of design to structure courses that afford meaningful student engagement. As a teacher, her goal is to have students develop critical consciousness as they engage with course material. Her students and peers commended her for her willingness to act as a resource and mentor outside of the classroom. 

On Teaching

“In my last course, a lot of students said at the end of the semester that they felt it was really a community, and that they felt safe participating and being wrong and sharing answers. On the first day of class, I asked them, ‘What’s something I should know about you?’ And the modal answer was, ‘I’m really shy. I’m really scared of participating. I’m really scared of embarrassing myself in front of my peers.’ The fact that they were able to say that wasn’t true at the end of the semester is something I’m really proud of.”



In Their Words 

Excerpts from Yang’s Nomination

“There are not many persons as talented as Brenda is in the classroom given the nascence of her career. I am particularly struck by her casual yet profound ability to explain complex and often intimidating concepts to students.”

“Brenda wants to teach teachers, in addition to honing her own teaching skills. At Duke, she has taken steps towards this goal, conducting and publishing research that applies psychological principles on learning in undergraduate classes. She is committed to evidence-based teaching practices, and also to disseminating these to others.”

“Brenda Yang embodies everything we want in our best colleagues. She had strengthened our teaching practices at Duke and is poised to be one of the most popular and effective instructors at whatever institution is wise enough to hire her. Brenda is always the first person I want to talk to about a new teaching idea and a constant source of inspiration for me as an educator and scholar."