UT System Regents honor six UTPA faculty members for teaching excellence
Posted: 08/23/2012
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The University of Texas System Board of Regents recognized six faculty members at The University of Texas-Pan American Aug. 22 as recipients of the 2012 Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards, the board's highest teaching award.

Six UTPA faculty members were recognized Aug. 22 by the UT System Board of Regents as recipients of the 2012 Outstanding Teaching Award, the board's highest award to reward faculty who demonstrate extraordinary classroom performance and innovation. The honorees are left to right Dr. Arturo Fuentes, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Caroline Miles, Department of English; Dr. Kamal Sarkar, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Sonia Hernandez, Department of History and Philosophy; Emmy Pérez, Department of English; and Dr. Aje-Ori Agbese, Department of Communication.
They were among 65 faculty members from academic institutions across the UT System selected to share $1.8 million in awards. Each faculty member will receive a $25,000 cash award, considered one of the largest in the nation for rewarding outstanding faculty performance.

The UT Pan American faculty members honored include Dr. Arturo A. Fuentes, associate professor and undergraduate program director, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Caroline Miles, associate professor, Department of English; Dr. Aje-Ori Agbese, assistant professor, Department of Communication; Dr. Sonia Hernandez, assistant professor of history, Department of History and Philosophy; Emmy Pérez, assistant professor, Department of English; and Dr. Kamal Sarkar, lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering.

This year's UTPA honorees join 14 other faculty members at UT Pan American who have received the Regents' Teaching Excellence Award since it was established in 2008. The awards recognize faculty at the nine academic as well as the six UT System health institutions who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom instruction and innovation in undergraduate instruction. This year's financial awards totaled more than $2.6 million for 105 faculty members at both the academic and health campuses.

Regents' Chairman Gene Powell said the Board has a responsibility to support, encourage and reward the UT System's most innovative and effective educators.

"These annual awards help advance the culture of excellence and recognize outstanding performance in the classroom and laboratory that directly benefit our students for life," Powell said. "On behalf of the Board of Regents, I congratulate each of these dedicated professionals for their commitment to exceptional teaching and providing an education of the first class for our students."

Faculty award winners undergo a series of rigorous evaluations by students, peer faculty and external reviewers. The review panels' evaluations of the candidates include consideration of classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes.

"The UT System and the Board of Regents believe educating young minds is paramount for the future of this great state and nation," said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. "These awards honor those educators who have produced proven results and have had a great impact on our students."

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen said he tells people across the state and nation about the outstanding faculty at UT Pan American and the difference they are making in the lives of South Texas students.

"I thank the Board of Regents for recognizing these six outstanding faculty members, who excel at what they do and demonstrate daily their dedication to providing our students a top-notch education and the experiences and support they need to be successful," Nelsen said.

UTPA's Regents' Award winners shared their comments on their teaching philosophy:

Dr. Arturo A. Fuentes, associate professor and undergraduate program director, Department of Mechanical Engineering (tenured faculty award category)

"To current and prospective engineering students, I demonstrate my passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter and my commitment to their academic and professional success. I strive to provide the best educational experience and to promote high standards by being a role model. My teaching efforts include designing and implementing effective student challenges that take place inside and outside the classroom. These motivate and engage students and provide formative feedback to help them achieve their full potential."

Dr. Caroline Miles, associate professor, Department of English (tenured faculty award category)

"In my students, I aim to cultivate intellectual curiosity, creativity and the desire for lifelong learning, instill the practical individual and collaborative skills necessary to be successful in the workforce, and encourage a sense of civic responsibility and ethical regard for others in regional, national and global contexts. I work to develop a dynamic curriculum that is relevant to my students' lives and futures, that pushes them to think beyond their comfort zone, and that will ultimately contribute to stronger communities. At the same time, rather than adhering to a strict teaching philosophy, I constantly rethink and revise my approach to teaching through an ongoing dialogue with new pedagogies and technologies, my students and the environment in which I teach."

Dr. Aje-Ori Agbese, assistant professor, Department of Communication (tenure track award category)

"My teaching is based on one of my favorite sayings - 'Don't just pass through the university. Let the university pass through you.' Whether it's writing news stories, preparing the front page of a newspaper or magazine, learning about culture or musing on the media's influence, I want my students to gain the knowledge and skills that will help them appreciate diversity and be open to various experiences. I want them to be active and responsible participants in their education by taking part in activities and opportunities beyond the classroom so they can get a taste of 'real world' situations and are better prepared to face whatever comes their way."

Dr. Sonia Hernandez, assistant professor of history, Department of History and Philosophy (tenure track award category)

"If students acquire knowledge about their history, their family, and their communities they are able to make connections to their place in our nation; they will then realize that they have a responsibility to it. I strive to transform my students into practicing historians and my responsibility to them, the community, and to the profession of history is to help students see themselves as real historians who critically think about the past in ways that will enrich their present. In this way, history is meaningful, thought-provoking, and instills a passion for this type of problem solving in a compassionate, balanced and creative way."

Emmy Pérez, assistant professor, Department of English (tenure track award category)

"Exchanging and discussing work in a compassionate, rigorous creative writing workshop can be a form of gift-giving when participants rise to the challenge of excellence and innovation in their writing and criticism. Writing well in any genre is a powerful skill that leads to more opportunities in life and can help in the pursuit of social justice for our communities. When creative writing students lead service learning literacy projects in the community and detention centers, they teach academic techniques in their service while improving their own writing as their audiences expand from the classroom into the community."

Dr. Kamal Sarkar, lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering (contingent faculty award category)

"In my mind, the duty of a teacher is to foster a passion for knowledge in students. Ultimately, students are our ambassadors. Their success is our success!"

View the complete list of award recipients here.