Professor Conveys Enthusiasm for Economics
Piñeres' Goal is to Teach Sound Decision-Making, in Classroom and in Life
Aug. 16, 2010
Professor Sheila Amin Gutiérrez de Piñeres’ professional goal sounds simple enough: Students will leave the University as educated voters who know how the economy works and affects their lives.
The work that goes into achieving this seemingly simple aim, however, amounts to countless hours of preparation, research, engagement outside the classroom, mentoring and administration.
Pineres is one of 38 recipients of the 2010 UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award for tenured faculty. The award is accompanied by a $30,000 stipend. First given in August 2009 to 73 faculty members, the awards recognize excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level across the System’s nine academic institutions.
During her career, Piñeres has taught undergraduate courses on economics, international trade, Latin America and social entrepreneurship.
Dr. Brian Berry, Lloyd Viel Berkner Regental Professor and former dean of the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS), praised Piñeres’ “strong focus on curriculum development.”
“Her courses show originality in structure and content, draw effectively on her interdisciplinary research on the economics and politics of development, and end with cohorts of students excited about learning,” he said.
Some of her strongest supporters are her students, many of whom have gone to top graduate and professional programs.
Arin Bratt (BS, ’07) met Piñeres while a sophomore with a self-described “lack of internal motivation.” During an office meeting about a class project, Bratt recalls Piñeres’ sudden exclamation that he was “going to a great grad school” and she would help make it happen.
A few years later, her style guides Bratt in his own teaching duties as a doctoral student at Northwestern University’s department of economics.
“I find myself using no other standard than that provided by Dr. Piñeres,” he said. “She is the best lecturer I have ever had the privilege to hear.”
Her mentoring is not limited to students in economics but extends to any student who finds his or her way to her.
“Dr. Piñeres recognized my potential and reached across academic barriers on multiple occasions to open doors and give credibility to my work by putting her own reputation on the line,” said Cody Gilleland (BSEE, ‘06). “She has the unique ability to look beyond the traditional signals used to judge students and not only recognize great potential in average students but to put together an action plan to help them achieve their true potential.”
Gilleland currently is a doctoral student in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Piñeres’ boundless energy for students has translated into a succession of administrative roles at the University. Each job has directly influenced the student experience.
Since joining UT Dallas in 1996, Piñeres has served as associate dean for undergraduate education in EPPS, as head of the public policy and political economy program in EPPS and, during 2006-2008, while serving as associate provost, managed directed the Office of Enrollment Services.
During 2009, she led the initiative to secure UT Dallas’ presence at the Collin Higher Education Center (CHEC) in McKinney, a partnership among UT Dallas, Collin College and four other area universities. In February of this year, she was appointed interim dean of the McDermott Library, a position she will continue to occupy until a new dean is selected.
In May, Piñeres was appointed dean of Undergraduate Education. Despite her administrative duties, she’s not leaving the classroom. Piñeres will team teach Oral Communication and Critical Thinking (RHET 1101), the mandatory UT Dallas course designed to help freshmen adapt to college, with Associate Provost Thomas Chesney.
“Teaching the freshman experience class will allow us to understand the obstacles and challenges common to freshman in order to improve retention and graduation rates,” she said.
She also plans to teach in the spring.
Piñeres sees all aspects of her work as essential to excellence in undergraduate education.
“My research shapes my teaching agenda; my mentoring guides students toward reaching their potential; my policy work has led to grants to support undergraduates; and my administrative service focuses on how to better serve undergraduates,” she said. Piñeres earned her PhD in economics from Duke University. Before coming to UT Dallas, she was an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas.
Dr. Sheila Amin Gutiérrez de Piñeres sees class discussion as an essential component of learning. That's why she makes it her goal to learn the name of every student in her classes.
The 2010 Regents’ Awards