Faculty Research Lecturer Award
Richard Mayer - Psychological and Brain Sciences
Nelson Lichtenstein, Chair, Committee on Faculty Research Lecturer
The Faculty Research Lecturer is the highest honor the UCSB faculty can bestow on one of its members. The purpose of this award is to accord Academic Senate members the high recognition that is their due, and further to give faculty, students, and the citizens of the UCSB community an opportunity to understand the scholarly achievements and outstanding professionalism of those whom we honor. The Committee on Faculty Research Lecturer is pleased to present Dr. Richard Mayer, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, as our 2021 Faculty Research Lecturer.
Professor Mayer's research lies at the intersection of cognition, instruction, and technology, with current projects on multimedia learning, computer-supported learning, and computer games for learning. In other words, he studies how to help people learn and to solve new problems. Since receiving his PhD in 1973 from the University of Michigan, Professor Mayer’s research has used basic experimental techniques to isolate how a broad range of multimedia factors involving visual, sound, and textual information, along with interactive tools, affect learners’ acquisition and mastery of cognitive and linguistics problem solving skills and knowledge. As the world continues to reel from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the resulting overnight shift to broad scale remote teaching and learning, there is no scholar better positioned to guide our path forward.
Among his most influential works are the four editions of E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, co-authored with Dr. Ruth Clark; the two editions of The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning; and the two editions of The Handbook of Research on Learning and Instruction, co-edited by Dr. Patricia Alexander. Thirteen of his books have been translated into other languages including Japanese, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Polish, Korean and Arabic. Professor Mayer has the highest citation count among all scholars in educational psychology worldwide. Indeed, he is among the top cited scientists in the world - in the upper 0.01% based on the total citations (140,000) in 2019.
One colleague notes that, “His ideas are superb, his experiments are ingenious and his writing style is elegant. There is no one who writes more intelligible prose in our field.” Another observes that he “makes the UCSB culture of interdisciplinary scholarship possible…He is methodologically meticulous as well as brave and innovative.” In addition to the many offices and editorships he has held in the educational and psychological disciplines, Professor Mayer is the recipient of the exclusive and prestigious E.L. Thorndike Award for career achievement from the American Psychological Association and the James McKeen Cattell Award for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to applied psychological research from the Association for Psychological Science.
Professor Mayer is widely known as a warm and approachable colleague and teacher, “a model researcher, mentor, colleague, and faculty member.” Therefore, given a set of scholarly achievements that are both pathbreaking and practical, the UC Santa Barbara Faculty Senate is delighted to present Professor Richard Mayer with the 2020-21 Faculty Research Lecturer Award.
Faculty Diversity Award
Victor Rios - Sociology
Victor Rios is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Associate Dean of the Division of Social Sciences. Professor Rios’ research is community-engaged and publicly focused, and looks at intersectional inequalities and their impact on educational outcomes, especially Latinx high school students. His impact reaches far beyond the UCSB community, as he works with students on the margins in high school districts throughout California, as described in his documentary film “The Push Outs”, which is based on his own early-life experiences. His work in advocating for evidence-based policy and practices has reached school districts across the United States, and he has counseled policy makers on juvenile justice, school leadership, and education code.
Professor Rios has also served as a trusted advocate for the UCSB Black Student Union. He was instrumental in helping to secure funding to keep Jeffrey’s Jazz Coffeehouse, founded in the wake of the 2014 Isla Vista tragedy, running. Over the past two years he has mentored over 80 first-generation undergraduate students. He co-chaired the recent search for a new Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, worked with faculty to generate a letter in the wake of last spring’s racial uprisings, and helped to develop the model for the new Faculty Equity Advisor positions. As one of his nominators states, “What is so inspiring and remarkable about Victor’s record is the way diversity commitments are woven into every facet of his professional profile—research, teaching, professional activities and service—and the way he somehow makes time for them all.”
I have only touched on Dr. Rios’s vast accomplishments. His commitment to diversity work can best be summed up by his nominators: “Dr. Rios has made diversity—in the broadest and most substantive sense—the defining characteristic of his professional career, in every realm, and with great integrity. His record stands in striking contrast to the more common pattern, where these principles are mere enhancements, or optional add-ons” and “There is no one on campus more deserving of this award.”
Harold J. Plous Award
Carolina Arias - Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
It is with great pleasure that we announce Professor Carolina Arias as the recipient of the 2021-22 Harold J. Plous Memorial Award. This is the highest honor the College of Letters and Science bestows on an Assistant Professor. It honors outstanding contributions to the intellectual life of the campus community.
Carolina Arias is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB). She received her BS in Microbiology from Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia), and her PhD in Biomedical Sciences, with a focus in Microbiology, from New York University School of Medicine. She has held postdoctoral positions at the University of California, San Francisco and at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.
Professor Arias has devoted her career to studying the molecular basis of virus-host interactions. Her research seeks to understand the biological mechanisms and biomedical principles of such pathogens, in order to facilitate the development of targeted and efficient therapies. She combines classical cell biology techniques with systems-level analysis to investigate how viruses take control of cellular processes during infection. Professor Arias’ research methodology is distinguished by her perfectionism and insistence on “doing things the right way.” For example, in order to study viral infections of the human eye, she eschewed commonly-used simple cell cultures and rodent models. Instead, Professor Arias devoted extra time and energy to developing human retinal organoids, derived from human stem cells, that more accurately reflect actual human eye structures. Her meticulous approach enables Professor Arias’ research to have more immediate real-world usefulness.
Professor Arias focuses on virus-host interactions in Herpesviruses and Poxviruses, two groups of viruses that cause diseases in humans and many other animals. Professor Arias has carried out research on the herpesvirus associated with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a cancer that commonly afflicts HIV-positive people. She has also conducted research on more than 2000 FDA-approved compounds, seeking to identify drugs that could be re-purposed for use against the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Since arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 2016, Professor Arias has continued these research directions, aiming to systematically dissect host-virus interactions in cells infected with herpesviruses and Zika virus. In early 2020, as COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, swept across the world, Professor Arias’ virology expertise gained urgent new relevance. She quickly shifted her focus to developing individual testing and community surveillance methods to combat the pandemic.
Professor Arias has made truly stunning contributions to our campus and to the wider Santa Barbara community. In February 2020, Chancellor Henry Yang asked Professor Arias to join his newly-established COVID response groups. Professor Arias is the only junior faculty member of these groups, which have continued to meet multiple times weekly since their formation. When most campus activities ceased at the end of March 2020, Professor Arias’ lab was allowed to continue working. In collaboration with Professors M. Wilson, K. Kosik, and D. Acosta-Alvear, Professor Arias developed an inexpensive and rapid method (PEARL) to purify RNA from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. She and her collaborators used this RNA extraction method to develop a rigorous and easily deployable diagnostic test for the virus named CREST (Cas13-based, Rugged, Equitable, Scalable Testing). She then worked with the UCSB Student Health Center and Cottage Hospital clinicians to spearhead a surveillance testing research project assessing the COVID-19 status of about 2000 healthy people from the UCSB community in order to detect asymptomatic carriers of the virus and to assess changes in the positivity rate over time. Her timely scientific accomplishments very likely prevented a larger outbreak in our community.
Professor Arias has also been a leader in implementing the COVID-19 testing, contact tracing efforts and viral variant analyses essential to the campus’ strategies to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and to keep the public informed with updates. She supervised the setup of our campus COVID-19 testing laboratory-- handling equipment procurement, training of testing personnel, and numerous other technical, administrative, and financial issues. She has also made enormous contributions in educating our campus and community about SARSCoV-2 through public lectures, seminars, and media interviews.
Professor Arias’ efforts against the pandemic should not overshadow her exemplary contributions to undergraduate and graduate teaching and mentoring. She receives consistently strong teaching evaluations while teaching highly-challenging courses in the field of Virology. In classes with large enrollments, Professor Arias works hard to develop active learning tools to enhance understanding and nurture students’ motivation and curiosity. She does this by discussing current events, taking time for informal in-class questions and answers, and having students read and discuss primary research articles in small groups. These approaches have been particularly important during the pandemic, where she taught students how to get access to the latest information about SARS-CoV-2 to gain a deeper understanding of its worldwide replication and spread. One student commented, “She was on top of the latest news and it was comforting hearing information from her rather than from the media…it kept us excited about learning virology.”
In addition to teaching courses in her specialty area, Professor Arias developed a new course on Diversity in STEM to teach students about historical and contemporary issues regarding the successes and challenges of women and underrepresented scholars. One student commented that she greatly appreciated, “getting to discuss the beauty and struggles of diversity in STEM” and that it made her “feel more comfortable knowing there was a woman of color who could understand the struggles of minorities.”
Professor Arias has also been an exceptional mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students. She has taken an active role in mentoring a large number of undergraduate biology students and has been an inspiring role model for underrepresented students. In her short time at UCSB, she has mentored 17 undergraduate students, including several MARC (Maximizing Access to Research Careers) and UC LEAD (Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degree) scholars. She encourages her students to develop independent projects and to present their research at local and national research conferences. A number of former students are now researchers and doctoral students at top tier universities. Professor Arias is also a highly soughtafter graduate and postdoctoral mentor. She provides her trainees with cutting edge research skills and supports their development in all aspects of science and academia.
In sum, Professor Arias’ contributions to UC Santa Barbara would be considered extraordinary for anyone and are likely unprecedented for an Assistant Professor. In the words of her department chair, “the tasks she took on were overwhelming and her efforts have been beyond remarkable.” Beyond honoring her stellar achievements as researcher and teacher and her intellectual contributions to the campus community, we owe Professor Arias a debt of gratitude and are honored to be her colleague.
Distinguished Teaching Award
Walid Afifi - Communication
Professor Walid Afifi is an exceptional instructor who grounds his pedagogy in four fundamentals: crafting environments where students are safe, heard and elevated; curating content that is applicable to students’ lives; facilitating community-centered work; and providing students with opportunities to take part in research and knowledge production. Through innovation and kindness, Professor Afifi embodies the dedication to the pursuit of knowledge that transcends the divide between the university and the rest of the world. He inspires students to remain motivated, to pursue their passions, and to approach every challenge with optimism. As part of a year-long faculty development seminar, Professor Afifi adapted the graduate and undergraduate curriculum in his department to reflect the labor and demands of Black Lives Matter, as well as LGBTQ and disability movements. Professor Afifi’s outreach program, which began as a Community Engagement course, has now blossomed into numerous sustained, community grounded projects in Isla Vista, Goleta, and Santa Barbara. Students work alongside community members to promote social, educational and environmental justice throughout the year and long after the course is complete. When COVID-19 hit, Professor Afifi forged a “Pandemic Edition” of his communication courses that gave students the tools to understand everyday behavior. These courses had a wide impact; one of his students, a social media “influencer,” made a video on the imperative of speaking out when we witness injustice that was viewed 600,000 times. Through intentional practices, such as providing a personal phone number for emergency situations, to making course material free and accessible, Professor Afifi has continued to demonstrate the utmost care and commitment to his students. As one student put it: he is “by far the most inspiring and passionate instructor.” We are delighted to recognize his efforts with the UCSB Distinguished Teaching Award.
Summer Gray - Environmental Studies
Assistant Professor Summer Gray is an interdisciplinary social scientist within the Environmental Studies Department who examines how humans are impacted by, and adapting to, sea level rise, coastal development, and marine resource extraction. Her work in climate justice and the struggles to mitigate the uneven impacts of climate change led her to co-found the Climate Justice Project that brings scholars and activities together to “re-imagine the world…to make way for new possibilities.” Dr. Gray’s exceptional teaching integrates theory with practice, the conceptual with the experiential, and hands-on, active learning that aims to expand students’ skills and knowledge of how to address the grand challenges of climate change and other environmental challenges. She has succeeded in transforming students’ level of awareness of environmental threats and their confidence in their own capacity to confront those problems – they collectively praise her ability to “inspire…resilience.” Her students have remarked that “…without a doubt that the skills … learned in Professor Gray’s courses will serve me for the rest of my life” and that her courses “were the perfect combination of unique class structures that encouraged student participation and innovation and mentorship opportunities to further grow their skills.” Dr. Gray is “extremely responsive, passionate, and caring about her students and their experience at the university.” Professor Gray’s students and colleagues explain in clear terms that she is an amazing professor that genuinely cares about her classes and students’ abilities to thrive mentally, physically, and emotionally. We are very proud of Prof. Gray’s performance at UCSB and are honored to recognize her achievements with the Distinguished Teaching Award.
Yogananda Isukapalli - Electrical & Computer Engineering
Dr. Yogananda Isukapalli is an innovative professor who integrates real world design and implementation into computer engineering classes. He seeks "to bridge the gap between a theoretical understanding of concepts and [their application to] real-world scenarios." Having worked for several years as a system design architect, he brings professional experience to his teaching and advising. In merely four years in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, he has already upgraded his classes and labs to offer students a cutting edge understanding of the constantly evolving consumer electronic space. This has included a complete revamping of the Computer Engineer Capstone Program. Dr. Isukapalli has expanded the program into a three-quarter sequence and recruited industry partners, allowing students to tackle more complex and challenging projects with real world applications. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, he has been voted Outstanding Faculty Member for Computer Engineering twice (2019, 2020) by the graduating seniors. His teaching and mentoring have had an important impact on students' lives, with one writing, "From setting my academic foundation and finding my first job in the tech field to discovering my own path in graduate study, [Professor] Yoga’s influence has been profound." For his outstanding accomplishments and innovations in teaching and mentorship, we are pleased to present Dr. Isukapalli with a Distinguished Teaching Award.
Andy Merolla - Communication
Innovation, excellence, accessibility and compassion are only a handful of the plethora of praises for Dr. Andy Merolla's instruction. By creatively integrating his lectures on communication theory with relevant readings, documentary videoclips, and pertinent podcasts, Dr. Merolla ensures that he consistently exposes students to both the foundational and the latest research in his field. In guiding students to make explicit connections between communication theory, the field's research, and their daily lives, Professor Merolla inculcates within his students ways of thinking and practicing that continuously influence how they approach their daily lives. One former student remarked, "[Merolla] constantly allows various voices to be heard and makes the copious amounts of information he teaches more interesting, analytical, and applicable to everyday life." In addition to promoting student success, Dr. Merolla's effective and engaging instructional methodologies are being adopted by other faculty on campus; in fact, his colleagues attend his lectures to learn best pedagogical practices and to view his instructional materials. A recent undergraduate notes, "I didn't know PowerPoint slides could be so impressive" while a graduate student states, "...dynamic text and images appear like magic, synchronously timed with his speech to correspond with an intuitive flow for the entire slide." In addition to his demonstrated excellence as instructor to students and colleagues alike, Dr. Merolla has an innate ability to build relationships; even in classes with enrollment of ~300 students, Dr. Merolla consistently makes an effort to learn student names and always has time for individual meetings to lend a sympathetic ear or offer thoughtful feedback. A student concludes, Prof. Merolla "[is] what most other teachers, researchers, and the general public should strive to be." We agree and recognize Dr. Merolla's excellence. Therefore, we are pleased to recognize Dr. Andy Merolla with a Distinguished Teaching Award.
Madeleine Sorapure - Writing Program
Dr. Madeleine Sorapure is an outstanding instructor, invigorating the teaching of writing at UCSB with a strong commitment to mentoring both in and outside the classroom. She brings her expertise in digital and multimodal texts and communication to the classroom, guiding students in how to communicate and how to transfer knowledge via writing, and giving students skills that go beyond the college classroom and into the workplace. Dr. Sorapure’s steadfast and commendable commitment to mentorship can be seen in the two endowed writing fellowships that she created for first-generation and URM students: the Raab Writing Fellows Program and the Gabler Promise Scholars Writing Program. Students repeatedly comment on Dr. Sorapure’s accessibility, her genuine kindness, the way she supports students, the way she continually fosters student success and acts as a mentor long after the student graduates from UCSB. Student comments say it all: “She is genuinely humble, highly reliable, and sincerely approachable”; “learning under Professor Sorapure has been nothing short of phenomenal. She has an unmatched, kind presence that illuminates the room”; to sum it up, she is a “personal inspiration.” We commend Dr. Sorapure’s truly exceptional teaching, mentoring, and administrative accomplishments and are pleased to recognize Dr. Sorapure with a Distinguished Teaching Award.
David Walker - Religious Studies
Dr. David Walker is an engaging and beloved professor who has made a profound impact on his students and on the teaching of Religious Studies at UCSB. His courses discuss the complex and rich history of religion in America and explore themes that link historical events, such as the World’s Parliament of Religions at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, with current topics in popular culture and modern-day issues of equity, inclusion, and social justice. These courses challenge students to question previously-held assumptions and rethink how they view the world around them. Additionally, Professor Walker has been heavily involved in updating the curriculum in the Religious Studies department, uniting research with teaching by strengthening the undergraduate capstone seminar and redesigning a seminar series for graduate students. Through all of his teaching in lower-division, upper-division and graduate-level courses, Professor Walker inspires his students to enthusiastically explore what they are passionate about. As one former student said: “He is proof that, no matter what our interests are or how ‘irregular’ others might deem them to be, there are endless opportunities to pursue the topics that interest us and make something meaningful out of them.” In recognition of his innovations in teaching, efforts in curriculum development, and commitment to making research accessible to students, we are pleased to present Professor Walker with the Distinguished Teaching Award.
Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award
Peter Ford - Chemistry
Peter Ford is a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCSB, where he has served as a highly appreciated mentor for graduate and undergraduate students for 53 years. Peter has made seminal contributions in photochemistry, catalysis and the chemical biology of small molecule bioregulators. He has advised or co-advised 71 Ph.D. students at UCSB, 8 M.S. students and 21 international students in research visits of various lengths. His students have pursued a broad spectrum of fields, including academic positions at research universities and leadership positions in industry and government laboratories. Letters from current and former students and colleagues at UCSB indicate he empowers his students to achieve goals they may never have thought of attaining and that he was ahead of his time in terms of the diversity of his large research group, where students were welcome and accepted without question. His junior colleagues seek out his advice when starting out as new mentors (as do senior faculty on many issues) and he mentors students in all aspects necessary to be a successful scientist including their communication skills. In recognition of his exemplary mentorship through his entire career at UCSB we are delighted to congratulate our friend and colleague Professor Peter Ford for receiving the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award.
Tim Sherwood - Computer Science
Tim Sherwood has been at UCSB since 2003 with a primary appointment in Computer Science, a courtesy appointment in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and he is a member of the Computer Engineering Program. During his 18 years at UCSB he has brought prestige to the campus through his highly impactful research, numerous awards and grants, and myriad contributions to the campus community, notably as Associate Vice Chancellor of Research for roughly 5 years. Within his Computer Architecture Lab (Arch Lab), he tackles a diverse range of research problems, and clearly there is some magic happening in his role as graduate mentor. He has graduated 15 doctoral students, has 5 current doctoral advisees, and has been a member on 41 additional doctoral committees. His students have gone on to amazing careers in industry (as engineers at Intel, Apple, Facebook, and Google, also a CFO!) and academia (UT Austin and the Naval Postgraduate School), as well as securing prizes such as the NSF CAREER Award. Narrative accounts from some of his students convey a picture of a caring and supportive mentor who treats his students as equal collaborators while encouraging creative problem solving. One student wrote: “Failure was encouraged. Not just for some vague notion of character growth, but as an actual research tool --- by learning to fail fast and see what research directions won’t work, one can find the good ones that much quicker.” His faculty peers also recognize his abilities as a mentor, one noting: “Prof. Sherwood is one of the most thoughtful, considerate, and caring people I know, and when this is combined with his exceptional intellect and superior scientific instincts, he makes a wonderful graduate advisor.” His, “…impact on graduate education at UCSB has been immense.” We are delighted to honor Professor Sherwood with the Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award.
Frank Zok - Materials
Frank Zok is a Distinguished Professor in the Materials Department, with 30 years of experience at UCSB. During that time, he has mentored 21 students to the PhD degree with another 9 in progress. He has also been significantly involved with another 14 PhD students, both as advisor and as coauthor on their publications. His graduated students are split between industrial and academic positions, with the latter including positions at Rice, University of Minnesota and UC Irvine. Letters from his current students indicate that the Zok group, affectionately known as Team Zok, emphasizes peer mentoring; a current student notes that “Frank encourages us to help each other which makes work more fun and inclusive!” Many of his students have gone on to extend mentorship to others, and to emulate his style in doing so. The Zok group is funded by both industry and federal grants. A current student described the “incredible experience” of presenting initial results to her corporate funders in Japan, noting that “Frank… could have gone with the other professors on the program…, but he values giving [students] the experience...and before we left… he gave us a crash course on Japanese business culture.” One graduated PhD student currently working in industry writes, “Even though I have since graduated from his group, I reach out often to him for advice or just to have a friendly chat. For me he will be a lifelong mentor and friend”, indicating once you are a member of his group you will always will be. Both current and former students praise Professor Zok for his tough but patient guidance, and credit him with making them better researchers and effective communicators. Professor Frank Zok is an outstanding graduate mentor and well deserving of the UCSB Graduate Mentor Award.
Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award
Donna Anderson - History
A doctoral student in history, Donna Anderson draws on her many years of experience as a high school social studies teacher to “loop together individual ideas to create a net of understanding” for her students. By creating a “lively and informal class atmosphere,” her sections routinely reflect a “community of enthusiastic learning.” Faculty unanimously reflected that she is “a superb teacher in every way” and “one of the finest instructors [they] ever had the pleasure to work with.” They particularly noted her “deep investment in her students’ success,” her “ability to pivot,” and especially her range of techniques for engaging students from all backgrounds. Students noted the deep interest that she took in every one of them and the powerful impact that she had on their lives, from developing critical thinking and public speaking skills to inspiring confidence to pursue research to helping to clarify postgraduate goals. They collectively remarked on her genuine approachability, her authentic efforts to build rapport and trust, and a kindness that “comes through the screen.” One student noted that, “It’s almost impossible to truly capture the passion and … energy that is abundantly apparent through her teaching.” On the basis of her stellar accolades by faculty and students alike, we are delighted to present this seasoned educator with the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.
Aracely Garcia Gonzalez - Chicana and Chicano Studies
Aracely Garcia-Gonzalez is a sixth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies who possesses an impeccable teaching record despite having served in some half a dozen of the department’s offerings, from large general education courses to extremely challenging upper-division courses in social theory. She is known across campus and beyond as a gifted instructor, mentor, and friend, particularly to Chicanx/Latinx students, having done work with the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), McNair Scholars Program, M.U.J.E.R.E.S, and even INCLUSION SYV in the Santa Ynez Valley. One faculty recommender remarked that they had “never witnessed a teaching assistant with such a deep level of compassion and dedication for students in higher education.” Another praised Ms. Garcia-Gonzalez for her ability “to teach undergraduate students the joy of engaging and researching topics relevant to their own lives.” A third shared an exemplary story: one quarter, when Ms. Garcia-Gonzalez realized that not all of her students could afford the assigned textbooks and that some students with disabilities could not read class materials, she started audio-reading all the texts on her iPhone. In her teaching philosophy, Ms. Garcia-Gonzalez recognizes that the classroom is a “historically exclusionary site for marginalized groups,” and thus aims to foster belonging and emotional safety in her students’ learning through connections to their families and communities. Indeed, several students noted the importance of having a first-generation Chicana like themselves as role model. On behalf of the UCSB community and Academic Senate, we are delighted to present Aracely Garcia-Gonzalez with an Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.
Shabnam Larimian - Electrical and Computer Engineering
A PhD Student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), Shabnam Larimian is described by a faculty member as “the rare ECE graduate student – the best in my 15 years of teaching – who has dedicated 5 years to high quality teaching in our Department.” Shabnam is noted for her “strength of character, knowledgeability, and fairness,” and has in fact been recognized with the ECE Department Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award four years in a row. Shabnam’s approach to teaching revolves around “explaining context before concept by providing practical applications and their significance in the real world.” A professor observed that, “whatever Shabnam does not know, she will spend time to fully learn to educate the students, even if the question …is not directly related to the course.” The shift to virtual classrooms has been particularly challenging for engineering students, where laboratory-based education is critical. Shabnam played a key role in developing online labs for the ECE Department, with a faculty member describing how she, “devised the labs with my input and then held weekly tutorial sessions for all other TAs…Her efforts put us on the right track to provide students with a great alternative to their in-person lab classes…several students in fact mentioned the improvisation to online labs was exceptionally well-done.” Moreover, Shabnam’s efforts have strongly impacted underrepresented and struggling students; faculty noted that, “without Shabnam many struggling ECE students would no longer be in the major” and her students have communicated that they look up to her and find her “empowering as a female engineer.” We are thrilled to honor Shabnam Larimian’s fantastic efforts and impact with the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.
Mika Thornburg - History
Mika Thornburg is a PhD candidate in the Department of History and a truly exceptional educator. She is thoughtful in accommodating her students’ needs as learners and as people. Her teaching goes well beyond the classroom and her teaching philosophy statement describes the value of a collaborative learning environment and the “opportunity for the blending of multiple perspectives and ideas into more innovative conclusions.” Mika is described as “an electric classroom teacher – full of energy, knowledgeable, articulate, empathic.” Mika helps students evolve their approaches and ideas about academia as a whole. Mika’s truly outstanding characteristic as a TA is her ability to lead her students through personal growth. One student noted, “Mika has … played a significant role in my personal journey towards the reclamation of my identity as a multiethnic Asian American…. She showed me that there is both personal and academic value in my narrative; she helped me recognize the broader significance of my study as a legitimate source of knowledge.” Mika is an exceptional educator and helps students transform their university experience, expand their career goals and revolutionize their daily lives. We are pleased to recognize Mika Thornburg as an Outstanding Teaching Assistant.