Committee on Teaching recognizes innovative, dedicated instructors

The UC Santa Cruz Committee on Teaching has announced the eight recipients of the 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award.

Due to the COVID–19 pandemic, the luncheon with Chancellor Cynthia Larive had to be postponed.

The committee received approximately 675 student nominations and selected eight instructors from all five divisions to receive this award. The student comments about the impact their excellent pedagogical practice has had on their lives were inspiring for the committee to read. COT appreciates their contribution to the important mission of teaching on our campus.

In addition, the Committee on Teaching is thrilled to announce the recent establishment of the annual peer nominated Distinguished Teaching Award. The announcement of the recipient will be forthcoming.

This year’s recipients are:

Professor Nathan Altice, Teaching Professor, Computational Media

“Professor Altice has clear lectures; interdisciplinarity experience and a great sense of humor make Professor Altice the best on campus. He interacts with students, dedicates time to take feedback, improves his courses every year and most importantly he makes sure you’re being helped. I have learned not only the subject matter I was supposed to learn, but even more about the material’s practical use in the field and more insight on how other disciplines will play into my knowledge/field. Professor Altice is an amazing instructor and deserves nothing less than this award.”

“Professor Altice is the most practiced and passionate lecturer I have had at UCSC. Every lecture has had clear effort put into it. He inspires his students in every class to think about creative projects from a different point of view than they are used to, and he is the most approachable professor I have interacted with on any campus, not just UCSC. My intellectual growth has been developed by Professor Altice making time for me, and other students, to pursue our area of study (game design) outside of his scheduled office hours and lecture times. He also never fails to listen when a student reaches out for advice or for help.”

Professor Peter Alvaro, Assistant Professor, Computer Science and Engineering

“Professor Alvaro was able to take a topic that is generally reserved for Graduate students and condense it into a class that is both informative and formative for Computer Science students. His selection of guest lecturers provided me with perspectives and contacts for post graduation. Finally his willingness to engage with students outside of class made the class seem much more intimate than the 100 student size would suggest. Overall, this has been my favorite class and one that will help me immensely in my endeavors post graduation.”

“Professor Alvaro truly cares that everyone of his students understands the material. In his class, there are no bad questions. He is also exceptional at making the class environment feel like a safe space where people can learn and enjoy what they learn too. He makes the material interesting by relating the material to real life technologies. He also arranged for many industry professionals to visit the classroom to help us get a better insight into what it will be like having a job in the technology industry. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Alvaro’s class and if I have the option I would love to have Professor Alvaro in one of the last classes I will take at UC Santa Cruz.”

Professor Javier Fernández Agüera, Lecturer, Language and Applied Linguistics

“Professor Agüera is by far the best language professor I could’ve asked for. He made every class engaging through activities and assignments that helped me in the real world, there wasn’t a single dull day in his class. He was super accessible for tutoring and answering questions, especially in rough times during the strike, he went the extra mile to provide us students with the best education possible. He made himself available on weekends and such to meet our needs. He continually showed how much he genuinely cares about his students, reminding us to take care of our mental health and not to stress out. He would go over the moon to make class exciting and useful. I feel more empowered to pursue language now more than ever because of his encouragement. I could go on and on about how phenomenal Professor Agüera is as a professor, he deserves all the recognition and praise.”

“Professor Agüera is an amazing Spanish Professor. I learned so much Spanish in the short 10 weeks, every time I stepped into the classroom it was like entering a completely different space. Professor Agüera immersed us into as much Spanish as he could by basically teaching the class in Spanish to a group of students who know close to 0 Spanish. I would go home and tell my friends about my class and my professor and come to class so excited to learn from a professor who was so excited to teach. The classroom was always full of active learning and laughing and questions.”

Professor Megan McNamara, Lecturer, Sociology

“Professor McNamara’s teaching style is different from other professors, yet the most effective in my opinion. She likes to do in-class activities after her short lectures since she believes that is the best way to retain the information we just received. This teaching style has helped me a lot and I still remember a lot of the things she taught to this day. She is very passionate on what she’s teaching and it shows when she is teaching in class. What I like about Professor McNamara is that she tries to build a connection with her students to the point where she doesn’t only see us as students, but as friends and human beings. She has given me a lot of confidence and even offered to write me a letter of recommendation if needed. I am thankful for everything Professor McNamara has done for me and I believe her hard work deserves to be recognized and appreciated.”

“Professor McNamara is an exceptional lecturer. From the first day of class, she expressed a genuine care for her students, and among all the distractions and stresses that were experienced during winter quarter, Professor McNamara was sure to communicate with students in such a way that was understanding and tended to students’ socio-emotional wellbeing. As a sociologist, she expressed her passion for the subject by connecting relevant aspects of deviance to current events. Her transparency allowed students to relate, connect, and feel seen, motivated and able.”

Professor Russell Rodriguez, Assistant Professor, Music

“Professor Rodríguez serves a variety of learning styles, as he teaches music through giving us sheet music and playing the song through for us, often on his own instrument, before we attempt it ourselves. He gives a lot of supplemental material for us to get used to knowing what to listen for in Mariachi style music, and provides a large amount of support to students of every instrument with his wide range of knowledge on each one. He will never give us a part he’s not willing to work on to get himself. He is approachable and the way he speaks of his own experiences is both motivational and peaks the interest of many students who are not what the department might consider traditional music students. Professor Rodríguez is not only an essential instructor to the student of color experience within the music department, but UCSC as a whole.”

“Professor Rodríguez always has us, the students, at the top of his list of priorities when it comes to music. He arrived to teach on campus in the winter quarter of my first year and since then I have continued to take this class. His numerous talents not only inspire us to strive to his level of passion, but make us aware of how lucky we are to have him as a teacher. As a Latina, he has opened up a space in the music department that has been absent for a long time; a space for people of color to feel safe making music that they can connect to in some aspect. Because we loved what we were learning in the class, we even made a club outside of our academic schedules and he kept pushing us to make the organization happen. Professor Rodríguez shows his passion by taking the time to talk to us individually and supporting our endeavors in college. He also brings in real Mariachi players to demonstrate the kind of power and sound we should be striving for. He acknowledges our talents by making us aware of opportunities for performance/music related assignments outside of class. He is the kind of teacher that is rare to come by and I hope he will be recognized for all of his work.”

Professor Savannah Shange, Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies

“Professor Shange is the most engaging lecturer I have ever had. She manages to turn a 60 - 100 person lecture into feeling as though there are 20–30 people in the classroom. She does this by using an extraordinary amount of energy in the presentation of the course material (it feels like she is performing but not in an over the top manner) as well as by incorporating a large variety of teaching mediums. She uses small groups to allow students more in-depth engagement on Text analysis, thesis refinement and critical thinking. She also uses other sources such as film, social media and music to assist in her teaching. Professor Shange strives to be in touch with each group of students she is teaching so that she prioritizes flexibility so that she can respond to our needs as students in real time. I highly recommend her for this award.”

“Professor Shange is the most dynamic educator that I have ever come across. Her knowledge for the subjects she teaches, the creativity and interaction she requires within her lessons/assignments, the community she fosters in her classroom and her pure excitement to be doing this work is why I am nominating her.”

Professor Bakthan Singaram, Professor, Chemistry

“Professor Singaram was overall the best, and my favorite, STEM professor I have ever had. Organic chemistry is known to be one of the hardest science classes one could ever take, and although it was definitely difficult from beginning to end, he always had everyone’s success in mind. After seeing how everyone had struggled to grasp the material in the first exam, he definitely shifted his way of teaching and made 50% of the second exam almost the same as the practice. Having studied his practice exam, I improved ~50% in comparison to the first exam (38/96 on the first midterm and 85/96 and on the second). Not only did his practice exam help guide my studying, it was also an alternate means of me learning and practicing reagent mechanisms and their effects on chemical structures. It helped me for problems that differed from his practice exam, and it was the first exam I have ever taken in STEM that I left feeling confident about. Professor Singaram is a caring, intelligent, and encouraging professor whose knowledge of organic chemistry can change the world. I believe he deserves this nomination because not only is he a great professor, but he is also very humble in a world where having that much knowledge is something to be prideful of. I only had one office hour interaction with him which occurred after he returned our first exams. Sitting there with my 38/96 in front of him, I expected the worst but he offered me the guidance I needed and I felt as though he knew I could improve; and I did. If there’s anything I can take away from him, it’s not the chemical reactions, but his humbleness, understanding, and his donkey story he shared with us on our last day: ‘Don’t try and please everyone else.’”

“This man is a legend. He goes above and beyond for his students putting 4+ hours of his time aside each day to host office hours designed to foster academic excellence. He is super accommodating and gives really straightforward notes and lectures.”

Professor Amanda Smith, Assistant Professor, Literature

“Professor Smith’s pedagogy is rigorous, equity-centered, honors her students’ humanity and our need to develop professionally. She demonstrates her passion for the subject at every turn (example: putting us in direct contact, via zoom and via mail, with the writers and cultural producers whose work we were studying), provides multiple opportunities for us to develop professionally while engaging with the subject matter meaningfully (examples: assignments tailored to applying for conferences, publishing book reviews, and designing syllabi related to the course topic), fostered a warm and collaborative learning community in the classroom, and conducted the course with a flexibility that honored students’ lived experience and the material reality of this quarter (example: tailored the final assignment so that students were able to use course material to respond meaningfully to the ongoing grad student strike/movement for COLA). Her class provided the type of grounding and community that we needed to be able to continue learning and growing in community as scholars through a very difficult quarter, and her support for her students is beautiful and unwavering. I learned so much from her as a teacher, a scholar, and a human being—she really deserves this award.”

“Professor Smith supported me and my classmates during what has turned out to be one of my most difficult quarters in recent history. She modeled radical adaptability and compassion which guided me through my own instruction and interactions with my undergraduate students. I feel like so many talk about what a better pedagogy looks like but it wasn’t until Professor Smith’s that I was able to experience this first hand and in turn, attempt to practice it myself. She has given me the tools, and experiences, that I needed to re-imagine education. She absolutely deserves this award.”