Teachers Honored at Convocation for Passion, Commitment to Students

Dr. Ryan McMahan

Dr. Ryan McMahan received the Provost’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring.

Because of their passion for learning and desire for student success, four UT Dallas instructors recently were honored for their teaching and mentoring accomplishments at the spring Honors Convocation.

Dr. Ryan McMahan, assistant professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, received the Provost’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring.

The award recognizes a faculty mentor who demonstrates superior leadership, support and guidance toward the development of UT Dallas undergraduate students and their research endeavors.

As an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech University, McMahan didn’t know exactly what he would do for a career. But the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research with a professor shaped his life and clarified his future.

“If it wasn’t for undergraduate research, I probably wouldn’t be here today. It was undergraduate research that lured me into getting a master’s degree and, from there, continuing on to get my PhD,” McMahan said.

As part of the undergraduate research, McMahan said he pushes students to get involved in publications.

“When undergraduates apply to graduate programs, most of them don’t have publications. So if our undergraduate students can have publications when applying, that gives them an edge,” he said.

In nominating McMahan, one student said the assistant professor has had a big impact on students.

“Because of the mentoring from Dr. McMahan, I have found a field I love and I am learning more and more every day about it,” the student wrote.

Since joining UT Dallas in 2012, McMahan has mentored 25 graduate, 15 undergraduate and six summer high school students conducting research in his Future Immersive Virtual Environments (FIVE) Lab. He also promotes research for underrepresented groups, including the establishment of a research summer camp for underrepresented high school students. Earlier this year, McMahan received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for his research and educational activities.

‘She Challenges Us to Become Better Thinkers’

Dr. Denise Paquette Boots, associate professor of criminology, received the President’s Teaching Excellence Award at the ceremony.

Dr. Denise Paquette Boots

Dr. Denise Paquette Boots

Students who nominated Boots praised her passion for teaching and her efforts to help students succeed, even long after they finish her courses. They wrote that Boots’ classes were always interesting, with guests including a bomb technician and an explosive-detecting dog from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the chief public defender of Dallas County, and the retired Collin County fire marshal.

“Dr. Boots challenged us,” one student wrote. “She challenged us to become better thinkers, better students and better citizens by teaching us about past injustices and welcoming discussion about current topics and politics.”

Another student who nominated Boots said she was thankful for the professor’s compassion.

“There is nothing she won’t do for a student — after our first day of class, I broke down in her office about my prior victimization, and she sat and talked with me despite not knowing me,” the student wrote.

Boots, who joined UT Dallas in 2006, teaches Introduction to Crime and Criminology and courses on topics including family violence, victimology, homicide and capital punishment. In 2009, she received a UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

“What a tremendous honor it is to receive this award and to be a professor here at UT Dallas,” Boots said. “Brad Henry once said ‘a good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instill a love of learning.’ I aspire to be the kind of educator who challenges my students to think critically about crime and victimization in ways they have never considered previously, and, in the process, become engaged as informed change-makers in their communities and world. Having the opportunity to mentor and teach such bright and dedicated students is incredibly rewarding for me.”

‘I Want to Keep Motivating Them to Perform Better’

Dr. Jigarkumar Patel MS’10 PhD’11 received the President’s Teaching Excellence Award for a non-tenure-track faculty member. Patel earned both a master’s degree and PhD in applied mathematics from UT Dallas. He also received bachelor’s degrees in pure mathematics and education, and a master’s degree in pure mathematics from Gujarat University in India.

Dr. Jigarkumar Patel

Dr. Jigarkumar Patel

Patel has been a senior lecturer since 2011 and is course coordinator for Applied Calculus II. In comments in Patels nomination materials, students praised him for the clarity of his lectures, his enthusiasm for his subject matter and his willingness to work one on one with students outside of class.

“Students are usually very sensitive to whether their teacher is interested in teaching,” said Patel, who was inspired to become an educator by his mother, who is a teacher.

Patel’s philosophy puts students at the center of the teaching process. To explain certain concepts clearly, he said, a good instructor will move down to the students’ level and know when to change gears during teaching.

“I pay personal attention to the students who struggle with the material, and I always encourage them to come to my office if there is any question,” Patel said. “If needed, I’ll go over the entire lecture again to help them understand material. I want to keep motivating them to perform better.

“I truly believe that good teachers are the base of any nation because they have the extraordinary ability to generate scientists, engineers, doctors and other professionals who contribute to a country’s development,” he said.

‘Math Can Be a Lot of Fun’

Emily Herzig, a doctoral student in the Department of Mathematical Sciences who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematical sciences from UT Dallas, received the President’s Teaching Excellence Award for a teaching assistant. Herzig was named one of the department’s first teaching associates, and has been the instructor of record for precalculus and applied calculus courses since 2014.

Emily Herzig

Emily Herzig


Herzig said her approach to teaching draws on her enjoyment of the logical, problem-solving aspects of math.

“I love the puzzle of trying to simplify or find a new approach to a problem. In class, I try to emphasize these puzzles whenever I can,” she said. “I think students have a better classroom experience when the instructor is really passionate about the material, and beyond that I hope that I can inspire them to see how math can be a lot of fun.”

Herzig said the flexibility in her teaching methods can be helpful to students who may struggle with the material.  

“I hope students walk away with an understanding that math is a process of exploring the world through logic,” she said. “Although occasional failure and revision is a necessary part of this process, math can be an extremely gratifying field to study.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].