Share

University Honors Educators with President’s Awards for Teaching Excellence

Five instructors from The University of Texas at Dallas recently were honored with the annual President’s Teaching Excellence Awards for their positive impact on student learning and innovation in the classroom.

UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson recognized the recipients virtually in May for their outstanding efforts. The Center for Teaching and Learning plans to host a future event to celebrate the faculty members’ achievements.

“Teaching is at the core of our University. In fact, many of our bright students choose to attend UT Dallas because of the esteemed reputation of our faculty. Now perhaps more than ever, it’s important to recognize our instructors. We are so proud of their dedicated work and their willingness to help prepare students for rewarding lives and productive careers,” said Benson, the Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership.

The President’s Teaching Excellence Awards committee receives hundreds of nominations every year and considers a broad spectrum of eligible candidates throughout the University. The award comes with a stipend, and recipients are presented with medallions.

This year’s honorees represent the School of Arts and Humanities; the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication; the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences; and the Naveen Jindal School of Management.


President’s Teaching Excellence Award in Undergraduate Instruction (tenure-track)

Dr. Pamela Gossin, professor of history of science and literary studies, director of Medical and Scientific Humanities

School of Arts and Humanities

What is the most rewarding part of the teaching experience?

“All of my courses explore ‘big cosmic questions’ through interdisciplinary approaches that combine the methods and values of literature, history, philosophy, science, medicine and the arts. In class, we share and help each other build creative perspectives, self-awareness and mutual understanding — inner and outer worldviews and global philosophies of life — across disciplines, cultures and generations. I value opportunities to help students learn to trust (and even enjoy) the inherently dynamic (and sometimes uncomfortable and discombobulating) process of learning by unlearning and relearning, by constantly and courageously seeking out chances to refresh and revise their previous knowledge base, provisional hypotheses and learning styles. By helping each other quickly and ably adapt to new information, unexpected complexities and consequences, we can hopefully develop the kind of cognitive agility and emotional resilience that will enable us all to more compassionately and inclusively problem-solve whatever challenges we might face.”

What is one of your favorite memories from teaching at UT Dallas?

“Recently, one occurred during the final in-class mini-lesson plan given by a UTeach Dallas student in my Perspectives on Science class. A military veteran returning to complete his education and begin a new career as a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] teacher, this student demonstrated the power of empathetic storytelling by teaching a classroom full of other future teachers about the ‘hidden figure’ of a high-level research scientist he’d discovered who worked through personal struggles and mental-health challenges to model unconventional pathways to success in life and academics. He then shared his own trauma-related challenges and how he’s been creating his own path to success by learning from others’ stories. One by one, all of the other students paused, looked up from their note-taking and fully engaged and listened to his story and then burst into spontaneous applause and support. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”

What was the best part of the online teaching experience during the final weeks of the spring semester?

“This semester, my co-instructor, Dr. Marc Hairston [research scientist in the William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences] and I faced the unusual challenge of having to convert our highly visual and experiential Literature of Science Fiction – Animated Nature course to an online format. The main themes of this class offered an exploration of humanity’s relationship with the natural world through both traditional and innovative visual storytelling techniques of Japanese anime and manga, with a shoutout to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. But, how do you translate the impact and affective power of an aesthetically beautiful and emotionally dramatic big-screen, film-watching experience shared with 130 other highly enthusiastic fan-students into meaningful, small-screen, personal-device viewing moments? Our solution was to ‘gameify’ the original syllabus and rewrite it into a ‘post-viral’ science-fiction-fantasy journey in which students were given the choice of following one of two science-fiction adventure pathways. To bring us all together in the end, we invited students to share stories, photos and artwork inspired by their journeys through animated nature on an end-of-class online Earth Day gallery. Yes, the overall feel of this class ‘room’ was more virtual than we originally envisioned, but the final exhibit was full of truly inspirational sharing, surprise, hope and creative joy. Together — alone — we all survived the ‘viral’ path!”


President’s Teaching Excellence Award in Undergraduate Instruction (non-tenure-track)

Semiramis Amirpour, senior lecturer in marketing

Naveen Jindal School of Management

What is the most rewarding part of the teaching experience?

“Igniting interest in the fields of sales and marketing while transforming lives. It is amazing to see students walk in at the beginning of the semester with limited knowledge and then leave with marketable skills and a curious mind. I love playing a role in shaping these young men and women into professionals who make a strong impact in their field.”

What is one of your favorite memories from teaching at UT Dallas?

“This past November when we won the Collegiate World Cup of Sales at the International Collegiate Sales Competition in Orlando, Florida. This was the inaugural year for the sales world cup, and it was nice to see months of hard work by our students pay off.”

What was the best part of the online teaching experience during the final weeks of the spring semester?

“The increased participation by some of the students who would usually not do so during regular classes. It was nice to see them come out of their shells and talk. And of course not having to drive north on [U.S. Highway] 75 during rush hour was an added bonus.”


President’s Teaching Excellence Award in Graduate/Professional Instruction

Dr. Kim Knight, associate dean of graduate studies and associate professor of arts, technology, and emerging communication

School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication

What is the most rewarding part of the teaching experience?

“I love when I can help students see the potential in themselves that I see in them. Whether it is a student with a really exciting idea for an assignment, an undergrad who has never thought of grad school, or a graduate student who is developing their research or creative focus, it is rewarding to help students recognize the contributions they have to make to our intellectual and creative communities in ATEC and at UT Dallas.”

What is one of your favorite memories from teaching at UT Dallas?

“When the call to move to remote instruction came, my class had two more technical workshops left in the semester. Students brought the tech we were working with home before break, and we did the first workshop during an optional synchronous session when classes resumed. At the end of the workshop, I asked for feedback to keep in mind for the next week. One student said, ‘This went surprisingly well; I’m honestly shocked,’ and without even thinking, I replied, ‘Me, too!’ It was a moment of levity, but it also made explicit how our classrooms are always co-constructed spaces that require the efforts of all of us.”

What was the best part of the online teaching experience during the final weeks of the spring semester?

“I was teaching a studio class, and we were just about to enter a series of creative workshops to support their final projects. We had to completely adjust our expectations of what was possible without access to our space and equipment. However, I was so proud of the work the students managed to do despite these difficulties. Some of them managed to carry out their original project plans; others pivoted to respond to COVID-19, addressing the role of essential workers or activating projects of community care; still others wrote research papers connected to the class themes. And so many of them kept showing up! I gave many options for weekly participation, and I was continually surprised by the number of students who attended the synchronous sessions.”


President’s Teaching Excellence Award in Online/Blended Instruction

Karen Baynham, senior lecturer of communication and basic course director

School of Arts and Humanities

What is the most rewarding part of the teaching experience?

“The courses I teach, COMM 1311 and COMM 1315, are communication classes. The most rewarding part is when I get to witness students’ transformations over the course of the semester from timid, inexperienced speakers suffering from high speech anxiety into confident, skilled presenters. Public speaking is such a strong, marketable skill.”

What is one of your favorite memories from teaching at UT Dallas?

“When a former student emailed me an update on his internship search, he informed me he was seeing the requirements ‘strong written and oral communication skills’ on literally every posting. Each semester I show students how to represent COMM 1311 and COMM 1315 skills on their resumes. This student used the communication tips he learned in class and got the internship. Success!”

What was the best part of the online teaching experience during the final weeks of the spring semester?

“I was expecting students to be stressed, overwhelmed and distracted. On the contrary, many took the time to thank me for all the work and preparation that went into keeping the communication going while they were struggling to adapt to a remote situation. They still felt connected in my class.”


President’s Teaching Excellence Award for Teaching Assistants

Katie Austin, teaching assistant and psychological sciences doctoral student

School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

What is the most rewarding part of the teaching experience?

“The rich connections you can foster with students as well as with fellow educators. The learning experience can involve trust and even vulnerability at times; for example, when a student comes to me for assistance, I see that as an act of vulnerability on their part because it can be hard to admit when you need help. On the flip side, when I teach, I ask students to trust me to guide their understanding and to work with me to grasp the material. It is such a privilege to work with students in this way. It is also such a neat experience to hear insights, perspectives and advice from more seasoned educators and to develop valuable relationships with them.”

What is one of your favorite memories from teaching at UT Dallas?

“When I taught a course on research design and analysis, early on we had a discussion about why it’s important to critically evaluate data and research studies outside an academic setting — in the popular media, in self-help books. I asked students to look for and reflect on examples they’ve seen of statistics and data ‘in the wild.’ They brought in wonderful examples, and we had a great discussion. My favorite part was seeing students engage with the material and practice critical thinking beyond the classroom setting.”

What was the best part of the online teaching experience during the final weeks of the spring semester?

“I loved how the experience allowed students greater accessibility to me as the TA. In the final weeks of the semester, I had more students attending my office hours and requesting meetings than I ever have before. It seemed that the greater flexibility in many students’ schedules created an opportunity for students who may not typically reach out for help to do so.”

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