Dr. Victor Alvarado's first experience with a computer occurred when he was a student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in the 1960s.
Alvarado, who now is a professor of educational psychology at The University of Texas-Pan American, said he was conducting research for his thesis on cancer and the effect of a certain chemical on the metabolism of red blood cells. He needed to analyze the data he collected, and a professor introduced him to an IBM computer that used keypunching.
"I remember, to me, it was the most incredible thing in the world to see how punching holes in a card would translate into numbers, results and statistics," Alvarado said.
His love of computers has continued in his nearly four decades as an educator, so much so that he has continually used the latest forms of technology in his classrooms as a tool to help his students better understand the concepts he is teaching.
On Nov. 22, Crestron Electronics Inc., a world-leading manufacturer of advanced control and automation systems based in New Jersey, presented Alvarado its Summum Bonum Award for Excellence in Teaching for his dedication to his students and embracing technology in education. (Learn more about Alvarado in this video.)
"Latin for 'the greatest good,' Summum Bonum is an expression used in philosophy to describe the supreme good in which all moral values are defined to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number," Crestron Electronics officials said in a press release.
Crestron Electronics created the award to honor educators who impact students through education and mentoring, making them better individuals who can make a positive impact on the greatest number of people, said Jeffrey Singer, Crestron director of global campaigns.
The company presents the award twice a year to deserving teachers and this is the second year Creston has given the Summum Bonum award, Singer said.
Since coming to UTPA in 1972, Alvarado has been instrumental in bringing technology into education.
He instructed some of the first computer classes in education courses at then Pan American University - starting out with computers rented from a local business before the University could secure funding to purchase more machines- and has introduced technology in his counseling courses and has taught courses online.
In addition to various software and other programs, Alvarado uses online programs Blackboard and Tegrity to post assignments and other information and to record his classes so that students can refer to them later when writing critiques of lessons -- a requirement in his class.
"Computers are a good tool, but a computer can never replace a competent, knowledgeable instructor," he said. "It's like the scalpel is a marvelous tool in the hands of a good surgeon."
Singer said Alvarado stood out because he was using computers and other technology in the classroom even before institutions of higher learning could imagine their potential in education.
"Today technology in the classroom is a standard, but 20-plus years ago Dr. Alvarado had to borrow computers, teach himself how to use them, teach others how to use them and then make a case for funding to bring more technology to UTPA classrooms," Singer said. "We could not think of anyone more deserving of this award than Dr. Alvarado who reinvents himself every semester, trying to improve the delivery of instruction and the learning outcomes of the students, while keeping up with evolving technologies."
Omar Cantu, director of IT support at UTPA, said he nominated Alvarado for the award because Alvarado has always been on the cutting edge of using instructional technology in his classes.
"Dr. Alvarado's methods of teaching have evolved over the past three decades and not only have his students benefitted from this, the students of his students have benefitted from his efforts," Cantu said.
Anne Toal, now the technology assessment officer for UTPA, is a former student of Alavado's and said Alvarado personifies exactly what the Summum Bonum award looks for in a recipient.
"As a teacher, he was very engaging," Toal said. "It was evident to me that he loved the material he was teaching, he was interested in it. That's contagious and relates to the students."
Toal added that the classes she took with Alvarado were some of the best courses she took as a college student.
"I thought Dr. Alvarado was an exemplary teacher," she said.