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Six UTPA faculty members receive coveted UT System Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award
Posted: 08/20/2013
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Six faculty members at The University of Texas-Pan American have been selected by The University of Texas System Board of Regents to receive the prestigious 2013 Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA), one of the nation's largest monetary teaching recognition programs in higher education.

UT Pan American's 2013 recipients of the UT System Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award are left to right Gustavo Dietrich, lecturer, Department of Computer Science; Dr. Dumitru I. Caruntu, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Biomechanics Laboratory; Dr. Maria Cristina Villalobos, professor, Department of Mathematics and director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education; Dr. Michael Abebe, assistant professor, Department of Management; Dr. Marci R. McMahon, assistant professor, Department of English and Mexican American Studies graduate studies director; and Dr. Karen Lozano, Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The UT Pan American ROTA recipients - among 63 faculty members honored in the UT System's nine academic institutions - are:

• Dr. Karen Lozano, Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering;

• Dr. Dumitru I. Caruntu, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Biomechanics Laboratory;

• Dr. Maria Cristina Villalobos, professor, Department of Mathematics and director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education;

• Dr. Marci R. McMahon, assistant professor, Department of English and Mexican American Studies graduate studies director;

• Dr. Michael Abebe, assistant professor, Department of Management; and

• Gustavo Dietrich, lecturer, Department of Computer Science.

The annual awards are presented to faculty members who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom performance and dedication to innovation. This year $1.6 million will go to outstanding faculty members. In July, 39 faculty from the U.T. System's six health institutions were also honored, bringing the total awarded by the Regents to $2.6 million.

Each faculty honoree will receive an unrestricted check for $25,000. Since 2009, when the ROTA was initiated, 20 other UT Pan American faculty members have received the award and are highlighted on the UTPA Faculty Awards Site. "I am so proud of the six scholars being honored this year with the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award. To be recognized for their work in the classroom when they also are among our most active researchers and faculty leaders shows how committed they are first and foremost to their students," said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. "This year's honorees exemplify the greatness of the UT Pan American faculty that will provide the foundation for a new emerging research university for the Rio Grande Valley."

The reception and dinner to announce the 2013 recipients will be held Aug. 21 at UT Austin's Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, where UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell and Vice Chairman Steven Hicks will present the awards.

"Our faculty members are the heart and soul of our institutions, and they are the most critical factor in student success. The Board created the ROTA program because of our respect and appreciation for these outstanding teachers, and because we want to make sure our institutions continue to be places of educational excellence," Powell said.

ROTA recipients are vetted by colleagues, students and administrators at their own institutions before advancing to UT System consideration. Candidates are then evaluated by a selection committee of distinguished educators from both in and outside of the UT System who consider their classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes.

Cigarroa, who describes the ROTA selection process as one of the nation's most rigorous, said the UT System is grateful to the Regents for their ongoing commitment to honor its very best and most dedicated faculty.

"These awards recognize the immeasurable impact teachers have on our students, who will shape the future of our communities across Texas and the nation," Cigarroa said.

The 2013 ROTA recipients from UTPA shared some comments regarding their teaching philosophy:

Dr. Karen Lozano, Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering (tenured faculty category):

"My teaching philosophy is to provide students with as many active learning experiences to engage them in scientific discovery while encouraging creative thinking."

Dr. Dumitru I. Caruntu, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Biomechanics Laboratory (tenured faculty category):

"If the students understand the material, they can perform, they can do the work and they like it. So this is, I'd say, my teaching philosophy - to help them learn the material and get them excited. It's not about the grade, it's about what they learn."

Dr. Cristina Villalobos, professor, Department of Mathematics and director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education (tenured faculty category):

"Guiding students to discover concepts and ideas empowers them to learn and builds their confidence in the subject area. Along with this goal, I enjoy mentoring students and providing them with opportunities towards graduate school or careers and helping them learn how their contributions can positively impact the Valley and the nation."

Dr. Marci R. McMahon, assistant professor, Department of English and Mexican American Studies graduate studies director (tenure-track category):

"The best education occurs when students are part of a classroom that respects multiple voices and histories. I guide students to explore how their life experiences and characteristics, compared with those of others, shape their perspectives on and their actions in the world. In doing so, I hope to deepen my students' capacities for critical self-reflection, while also expand their abilities to bridge the theoretical and historical with the personal and the political."

Dr. Michael Abebe, assistant professor, Department of Management (tenure-track category):

"My teaching philosophy strongly emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and pedagogical relevance. I encourage my students not only to understand and explain contemporary business management theories, but also to critically evaluate these theories in light of their personal experiences. I believe students learn best when the course material is presented in a way that draws from their background, experiences and current mental model."

Gustavo Dietrich, lecturer, Department of Computer Science (contingent faculty category):

"I try to make my classes straightforward enough so that my students can succeed and with this, increase their self-esteem and the sense that they can do anything if they so choose. Hopefully, when they encounter a more challenging problem they will be so self-assured that they will not hesitate in trying to solve it, even if that requires learning new stuff on their own."

Current and past winners are showcased on the UT System's ROTA website.

Watch for a feature story on each UTPA 2013 ROTA recipient to appear at the UTPA website banner and later on the UTPA Faculty Awards site.