Educators Recognized Among Best in UT System with Regents’ Teaching Awards

Dr. Joanna Kain Gentsch and Dr. Jonas Bunte have been selected by students, peer faculty and external reviewers as model representatives of The University of Texas System’s educational mission.

The two University of Texas at Dallas faculty members received the 2020 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. They are among 27 faculty members across the state’s 14 academic and health institutions chosen for the honor. Each will receive a medallion and a certificate for their achievements.

Dr. Jonas Bunte, who joined the UT Dallas faculty in 2013, is an associate professor of public policy and political economy in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. This year he received external awards for both his teaching and his research, including a project designed to identify best practices for preventing students from failing or withdrawing from classes. He is a past recipient of the University’s President’s Teaching Excellence Award in Undergraduate Instruction.

His book, Raise the Debt, received the International Political Economy Annual Best Book Award from the International Studies Association. He also has been funded by the International Growth Centre, based at the London School of Economics, to study how investment by U.S. and Chinese companies in Liberia resulted in local economic growth and development, as measured by nighttime light emissions.

Bunte said the geopolitical world around us presents many puzzles for which there are conflicting explanations, and that it is often unclear which argument explains things the best.

“Some arguments are clearly better if the logic of their causal mechanism is more convincing and the weight of the evidence is in their favor,” he said. “However, learning how to evaluate arguments and empirical information is difficult.”

For Bunte, merely teaching facts is insufficient — especially in an era where facts are ubiquitous and easily available.

“The ability to reason is key,” he said. “Therefore, my classes focus on helping students learn to articulate explanations to empirical puzzles and to adjudicate between competing arguments.”

Bunte praised the “rigor of argument as well as the civility of engagement exhibited by UT Dallas students” for whom he serves a role he describes as analogous to that of a personal trainer for a marathoner-in-training.

“Just like training for a marathon, learning something new is hard work. My job is to make you better, and that is not always fun,” he said. “However, it is my responsibility to ensure students come to a point where they see that their hard work is worth it. That is why I am incorporating cutting-edge pedagogical approaches in my teaching.

“Teaching is not merely downloading information into students’ brains. Rather, it is about enabling them to do things themselves. It is beautiful to see how students take these new skills and apply them in ways that I myself had not thought about.”

Dr. Joanna Kain Gentsch

Joanna Kain Gentsch MS’96, PhD’06 is the director of student and community engagement in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and also serves as the director of community-engaged learning with the Office of Undergraduate Education. Last year, she received a President’s Teaching Excellence Award in Undergraduate Instruction, an area that has been a focus for her since she joined the University in 2003.

“Teaching for me began with loving the practice, and the practice has helped me love it more,” she said. “I am motivated by the core belief that, given the right tools and resources, all students can be successful and thrive academically. That belief has always guided my teaching and was confirmed by my doctoral research.”

Citing the variety of challenges that students face as they navigate college, Gentsch said that “finding ways to help them succeed, feel connected and valued — while also maintaining quality and fairness — is a responsibility that we all share and one that I happily embrace.”

Regents' medal.

Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award

The UT System Board of Regents created the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2008 to recognize exemplary service to students. Thirty-seven UT Dallas faculty members have received the award.

“Our students contribute their energy and intellect to the greater campus community and create a dynamic that continues to transform my teaching philosophy. Whether it is crafting new classes or devising ways to help struggling students navigate difficult situations, meeting unique and shifting needs has become the foundation of everything I do,” she said.

Gentsch said her most meaningful teaching experiences have occurred when “finding creative ways to meet the unique needs and interests of our students — designing new courses and developing new teaching paradigms to create a learning environment that is fresh, compelling and relevant.”

“My students are not only psychology majors; they also come from across the University and represent a broad spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives,” she said. “It is an ongoing thrill to connect and share in their evolving intellectual curiosity.”

Community-engaged learning immerses students in real-world environments with a focus on topical issues. The courses can encompass service learning, participatory research and project-based scholarship.

“Seeing students thrive in community-engaged learning was pivotal for me,” Gentsch said. “Being responsive to their unique needs and seeing tangible results has improved my teaching.”

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