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University of California Santa Barbara
Academic Senate Awards

Prior Year Recipients

2012-13 Distinguished Teaching Award

Susannah Porter - Earth Science

Professor Susannah Porter is an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth Science, where she has taught since 2003. Dr. Porter has shown herself to be a truly excellent teacher at all course levels at UCSB. She is also an attentive, creative, and influential advisor of both graduate and undergraduate students. One of her Teaching Assistants offers some first-hand observations of her teaching: "In my role as a teaching assistant I have witnessed Professor Porter’s skill and enthusiasm in teaching both lower- and upper-level undergraduate courses as well as in facilitating discussion in graduate-level seminars. In courses such as Earth Science 7: Dinosaurs she presents paleontology to non-science majors, making the material accessible and exciting to students who often think they do not like or cannot understand science; this has led several students to change majors to Earth Science or Biology."

Dr. Porter brings a tremendously appealing combination of excitement, curiosity, and openness to her teaching. She is willing to explore and try things in both her work and in the classroom that might fail, but commonly lead instead to new discoveries or better communication of ideas or concepts to her students. This sense of "adventure" makes her into an even more successful teacher. One of her students uses a metaphor to describe her teaching style: "She did not throw us into the deep end, but rather taught us to swim then lead us away from shore and pointed out the abyss below us. Though perhaps daunting at first glance, her approach helped us realized that we could swim in the deep end, if we wanted, and that there remains a lot that is unexplored."

Remarkably, Dr. Porter also finds time to do outreach with local schools. Right now, she is working with an Environmental and Spatial Technology high school class in Santa Ynez where they are building 3D reconstructions of her fossils through time and strata in the Grand Canyon.

In describing what motivates her as a teacher, Professor Porter writes: "I loved being a student. I loved discovering crazy, amazing things about our world and I loved the practice of perpetually trying to improve myself. One of the reasons I went into academia is that it affords me these same joys – discovery and perpetual striving for improvement – and as a teacher I try to carry that student mindset with me…[M]y overarching goal is to inspire my students to see the world for what it is: endlessly fascinating and little understood." In bringing her passion for discovery to the classroom, Professor Porter incorporates the latest research findings in her teaching. Her discussion of new discoveries and ongoing research increases the students’ understanding of the current topic and teaches them about the dynamic nature of the scientific enterprise.

For her dedication to teaching excellence Professor Susannah Porter is awarded a Distinguished Teaching Award. Congratulations!