“Passion” is a word that can be used to describe all four winners of the national 2015 U.S. Professors of the Year awards: passion for music, chemistry, the stories of migrants, physics education—but above all, passion for learning and for students.
Conducted by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the awards recognize professors for their influence on teaching and commitment to undergraduate students. In addition to the four national winners, 35 faculty members were named state Professors of the Year.
National and state winners of the 2015 U.S. Professors of the Year awards will be honored Nov. 19 at a luncheon and awards ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. The national winners will speak at the event, after being introduced by current and former students.
The awards program is also celebrating 35 years. CASE and Carnegie will recognize the longevity of the program and the impact of the nearly 1,300 professors recognized since the awards program launched in 1981.
The four national winners for 2015 are:
Brian Alegant, Outstanding Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year
Alegant is professor of music theory at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Motivated by a desire to share the transformative power of music, Alegant designs his music theory classes to help students engage with the music they love as deeply as possible. His talent for making groundbreaking, cutting-edge scholarship translatable to the classroom is fueled by his drive, vision and sensitivity to the needs of students, according to a colleague. Pointing out Alegant’s unparalleled commitment to the field and to his students, a former student remarked that his teaching results in “the nourishment of a conscious and informed approach not just to analysis, but also to performance.” Adds a colleague: “His work has in many ways ensured the future of classical music.” Judges noted Alegant’s creativity and influence in teaching music theory and said his highly nontraditional mode of organizing music theory courses brings the field much closer to performance than usual and is transformative for many students.”
Amina Khalifa El-Ashmawy, Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year
El-Ashmawy is professor of chemistry at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. El-Ashmawy’s colleagues know her as an accomplished professor who is passionate about chemistry, both inside the classroom and as an ambassador for science among the general public. Her students know her as someone who captivates them with the awe and magic of science, turning a bad hair day into a hydrogen-bonding phenomenon and a pot of pasta on the stove into an exercise in intermolecular forces and time management. She has helped prepare national standardized exams for chemistry and has chaired successful conferences for chemistry educators, and finds time for research and community service. Always, however, her first priority is her students and their learning. Judges said they were impressed by her deep engagement with pedagogical innovation and research and her use of open-ended lab assignments that train students to be thinkers and problem-solvers.
Mats Selen, Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year
Selen is professor of physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His focus has long been on physics education and outreach, as evidenced by his teaching techniques and inventions, which include the i>clicker, used by millions of students across the U.S. and Canada; the Physics Van, which has brought science to more than 100,000 elementary students in Illinois; a wireless data acquisition device that enables students to do hands-on lab activities in their dorm rooms; and the Physics 123 course that provides future elementary teachers a positive physics experience. Selen encourages undergraduate students to join his research group and acts as academic adviser for physics majors who want to become teachers. He has been invited to give nearly 50 talks on educational research and innovation in the past three years. Judges recognized Selen as a national leader in physics education research for his innovative teaching and technological invention. They also applauded the many ways in which he engages students in the physics community through teaching assistant positions, undergraduate research opportunities and community engagement.
Stephanie Alvarez, Outstanding Master’s Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year
Alvarez is associate professor of Mexican-American studies and Spanish at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburgh, Texas. Driven by a belief that her students bring knowledge to the classroom as well as create knowledge, Alvarez views teaching as a means to self-discovery and empowerment for her students. She helped revitalize the Mexican American Studies Program at her institution and created the Cosecha Voices program in which students from migrant backgrounds write their stories and share them digitally and through performances. Alvarez’s students have presented at conferences; published their work; organized conferences, exhibits and public mural projects; and mentored more than 400 middle school students in 15 area schools. All of these efforts have had a scholarly impact on the field as well as personal impact on students. A colleague writes that her work “resonates beyond the classroom, into the community and into our national discourse on teaching.” Judges said they admired her leadership in Mexican American studies, noting that she had built a successful program by designing new courses and developing culturally relevant pedagogy.
Now in its 35th year, the U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program, created in 1981, is the only national initiative specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
Sue Cunningham, president of CASE, applauded this year’s award winners for their ingenuity, creativity and willingness to go beyond commonly accepted boundaries in teaching.
“Many of this year’s professors are innovators and risk-takers, relying on a research-focused approach that inspires students to be curious learners,” said Cunningham. “These innovative professors encourage their students to ask questions, discuss their topics of interest and discover for themselves. They are models for others to emulate, and they represent the future of higher education.”
Anthony S. Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, noted that through their contributions and commitment to excellence, the 2015 U.S. Professors of the Year are “elevating and dignifying the profession of teaching.”
“Recognizing our professors and the positive impact they have made and are making on society through their teaching and mentoring is more important than ever in today’s rapidly changing environment for education,” said Bryk. “Today, we honor each of our winners for upholding and guiding the aspirations of their students, advancing knowledge and being extraordinary leaders in their classrooms, colleges and universities and their respective professional fields.”
This year’s U.S. Professors of the Year award winners were selected from a pool of nearly 400 nominees. Judges selected the national and state winners based on four criteria: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former students.
Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society, sponsors an evening congressional reception for the winners at the Folger Shakespeare Library in the District.
Other sponsors of the awards program are the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Society for Engineering Education, the Association of Community College Trustees, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, attend.com and the Council of Independent Colleges.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is committed to developing networks of ideas, individuals, and institutions to advance teaching and learning. We join together scholars, practitioners, and designers in new ways to solve problems of educational practice. Toward this end, we work to integrate the discipline of improvement science into education with the goal of building the field’s capacity to improve.
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association serving educational institutions and the advancement professionals who work on their behalf in alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas. CASE was founded in 1974 and maintains headquarters in Washington, D.C., with offices in London (CASE Europe, 1994), Singapore (CASE Asia-Pacific, 2007) and Mexico City (CASE América Latina, 2011).