Regents' Award winner Dietrich motivates students to stay in school
Contact: Roxanne Lerma Casares, Staff Writer (956) 665-2741
Posted: 09/30/2013
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Gustavo Dietrich's "teaching career" started in the sixth grade.

"I would help my fellow classmates with their homework," said The University of Texas-Pan American computer science lecturer. "What they really liked was that I didn't just share my homework with them but I took the time to explain in detail how I solved the problems so they could learn."

- Gustavo Dietrich
That painstaking attention to detail evolved into a full blown teaching career and Dietrich was recently honored by The University of Texas System Board of Regents for his exceptional talent to make computer science applicable for students. He was one of six UT Pan American faculty members who won the high profile Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award to recognize their exemplary performance as educators.

"I see this award as the confirmation that what I am doing for my students is right," Dietrich said. "This is to me one of the best ways to get direct and honest feedback from the students and this award also represents the feedback from my colleagues."

Dietrich said his upbringing has shaped the educator he is today. He was born and raised in Argentina where the higher education system is rigorous and many teachers had little interest in making a personal connection with students.

"Most of my classes had an annual schedule from March to November. During the year you had to take a couple of very strict midterms just to get the right to take the final exam," Dietrich said. "In many cases we spent one to two months studying full time 14 to 16 hours per day to the take the final. I had some traumatic experiences with certain professors that made their classes unnecessarily difficult."

The final exam typically consisted of an oral assessment in which students had half an hour to talk about a topic chosen randomly by the instructor.

"Sometimes the exam result depended not only on the level of your preparation but also on the expectations or mood of the faculty," Dietrich said. "That is why I promised myself that when I became a teacher I would never let my subjectivity interfere with the evaluation of the students."

His decision to leave his homeland and move to South Texas was a risky move. Dietrich's children were only 9 and 11 years old when he and his wife made the difficult choice to relocate. His first order of business was to earn a master's degree at then Texas A&I at Kingsville in 1988.

"That degree is what allowed me to get my job. That's why I always tell my children and students the importance of getting as much education as possible," he said. "It was hard but our strong love and concept of family helped us to overcome any inconvenience that arose at the beginning of this adventure."

Dietrich joined UTPA in the fall of 1999. He said it was almost like fate.

"I was visiting a brother who lives in Mission and fell in love with this area. I decided to look for a job and came to submit my résumé to the Department of Computer Science," Dietrich said. "At that very moment they were having a meeting to discuss the emergency hiring of a lecturer and there I was at the door offering my services."

Faculty members said Dietrich has picked up a reputation as a hands-on and highly involved instructor. It may be because his role as a teacher goes far beyond the classroom.

"I've been coordinating the Computer Science and Engineering Mentoring Program since 2003 where we organize bi-weekly meeting in which people from different UTPA offices, faculty, and senior students present about their activities, research, and internships or senior projects respectively," said Dietrich. "Through these presentations we hope to provide our students a better understanding of what they can do in college."

Dr. Pearl Brazier, director of computer engineering and professor of computer science said, "Mr. Dietrich is an invaluable asset to the University and the Department of Computer Science. He is the most dedicated faculty member that I have had the privilege of working with."

In a letter supporting Dietrich's nomination for the Regents' honor, Edinburg North High School computer science teacher Miguel Ramirez praised Dietrich's local outreach efforts.

"I am deeply thankful, impressed and moved by his organization and his involvement with our high schools. He has demonstrated painstaking efforts to actively promote computer science education in Valley high schools," Ramirez wrote.

Dietrich considers community involvement part of his job.

"I strive to be a compassionate educator," Dietrich said. "I want all my students to succeed. I always keep in mind that my class is just one more gear in this wonderful machine that higher education is."

In another letter supporting Dietrich's nomination for the award, UTPA computer science student Karla Lopez Bray stressed how devoted he is to his students.

"Mr. Dietrich is a very hard working, dedicated, caring and passionate professor. He has positively impacted my life and the lives of many other students at our school and in our community," Bray said.

Dietrich and his fellow UTPA faculty winners were among 63 faculty members from across the UT System selected to share $1.6 million in awards, considered one of the largest in the nation for rewarding faculty performance. Nominees for the award were selected by a rigorous campus-level peer-review process, and then evaluated by a UT System External Review Committee.

The recognition, which comes with a $25,000 award, gave Dietrich a genuine sense that he is actually making a difference.

"I want to believe they selected me for my caring approach toward the education of our students. To me, students are human beings with needs, expectations and pressures," Dietrich said. "As I tell my students, when I see them, I see my children."

Learn more about the Regent's Award winners at this website.