Six stellar faculty win Distinguished Teaching Award
Associate History Professor Janice Reiff's journey to becoming a professor had a traumatic beginning. As a freshman at Northwestern, she took the train from school to downtown Chicago, noticing the neighborhoods grow more depressed and segregated until, at her final exit, she saw a man who had just been stabbed lying on the platform.
Two years later, after exploring in and out of class how the city could have become so striated, she realized she wanted to be "a historian of cities … seeking the relationship between past and present." Her reliance on out-of-class experiences helped develop her teaching philosophy. "Students learn best and most when they find their own questions — and answers," Reiff said. "The best teachers help them do both."
Reiff is one of this year's six Distinguished Teaching Award Senate winners, which represents the highest attainment of academic and professional excellence at UCLA. All six inspired 80 pages or more each of praise from their fellow faculty, their postdocs and students.
Every year, the Academic Senate selects six faculty from among its members as well as winners from non-Senate faculty and teaching assistants (listed on the right). The prestigious award for Senate members carries a $6,000 cash prize.
In dozens of letters, colleagues repeatedly note that the six winning professors are extraordinarily dedicated: Without exception, they serve on multiple committees and national organizations, receive an average score of eight-plus out of nine on student evaluations, win grant money and national awards, and develop cutting-edge curricula.
Below are the six Senate faculty winners of this year's Distinguished Teaching Award.
Associate Professor Janice Reiff.
Deeply influenced by her time in Chicago, Reiff, an associate history professor, sends students taking her class on the history of Los Angeles on field trips into L.A. neighborhoods to ground them in urban life. Students in a class entitled "America in the Sixties," experience the era through her lectures, but also through music, movies and newsreels of the time. "I see myself first as a designer and choreographer of the educational environment that is a course," she said. Reiff gets raves from students and faculty alike for her ability to weave primary sources into her presentations and make information leap to life.
"For every lecture, she carefully assembled multi-media presentations, including material as fresh as the previous day's news, which she presented with grace and gusto and humor," said English Professor Robert Watson. Her grasp of multimedia far surpasses the cliché of "merely adding a PowerPoint presentation summarizing her words," wrote another instructor.
Students actively seek Reiff out, both to take her classes and to secure her as an adviser, said Kevin Terraciano, professor and chair of the History Teaching Committee. Even "graduate students, who are not always an easy lot to please or impress, consistently sang her praises," he said. As one graduate student put it, Reiff "provided an oasis in a sea of seminars."
Luisa Iruela-Arispe, Undergraduate Mentorship Award
Professor Luisa Iruela-Arispe. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.
Iruela-Arispe, professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology, inspires towering praise from her students. "To say that she is amazing would be an understatement," said biology graduate Brittany Kazermierski. Faculty and students repeatedly attribute part of Iruela-Arispe's success to her requirement that science undergraduates design hypothetical experiments based on cutting-edge scientific mysteries. Students come up with novel ideas and experiments to advance findings outlined in recent scientific papers, explained a colleague, Professor James Lake.
"The interest of the students in completing this task is very high and their performance surprising," Lake said. "Many students have decided to take on hands-on research courses after this experience."
As one student put it, "This is the first class that actually got me thinking like a scientist, and that is why I love this course and this professor."
Her students "go wild" with ideas when asked to devise experiments, Iruela-Arispe said, adding that she loves the "wonder" of teaching new undergrads. Thanks to her efforts on the curriculum committee, courses are refreshed with up-to-date information every year, Lake said.
Mark Bela Santos Moldwin
Professor Mark Bela Santos Moldwin.
After undergraduate Jennifer Hyman listened to a lecture by Moldwin, a space physics professor, she found his teaching style so energizing that she overloaded her schedule the next quarter simply to take his space weather class, despite being a psychology and economics double major.
His colleague and department chair, Craig Manning, attributes Moldwin's success to the fact that "he explored the science education literature and discovered an entire new community of scholars interested in how students learn and the best way for teachers to help students." Moldwin attended workshops and conferences to learn more about teaching, and has received multiple grants to develop his own pedagogy.
Off campus, he writes a regular science column for a Culver City newspaper, and works with K-12 teachers in a professional development program.
"As elementary school teachers, many of us do not have formal training in science," said Nori Nagumo, a third-grade teacher in Culver City. "We often bombard Dr. Moldwin with questions via e-mail, and he is always quick to reply, making science concepts easy for us to understand so that we may then teach our students with confidence."
Roger Detels, Distinction in Teaching at the Graduate Level
Professor Roger Detels, right, laughs with some of his graduate students. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.
Graduates from Epidemiology Professor Detels' classes don't just go on to careers in public health. They go on to establish a public health school in Cambodia or serve as director of health for all of California, for example. Other graduates include the minister of health for Hungary and the former minister of health for Taiwan.
But what Detels is really known for is his work exploring HIV and AIDS. "His teaching and research accomplishments have fundamentally advanced the theory and practice of HIV/AIDS epidemiology," wrote his colleagues. Detels is "a world-renowned teacher and researcher in the field."
"Teaching is a performance art," Detels said. "Humor is key. You can give a fine lecture, but if the students were asleep, you didn't give it! Appropriate humor keeps them attentive, especially if you use it to illustrate a point or concept. … There is no greater joy for a teacher than watching young minds open up and realizing what they can achieve."
Along with garnering more than $100 million in grants during his 38 years at UCLA, Detels makes a point of helping his master's and doctoral students obtain funding.
Professor Susan Plann. Photo by Rich Schmitt.
When it comes to her teaching style, perhaps what's most amazing about Plann, a professor of applied linguistics, isn't how well-tuned her techniques are, explained Professor Olga T. Yokohama, department chair. It's that they are so instinctive with her, an "obvious outcome of her desire to enjoy and further foster the good relationship she had built" with students.
Some students notice her caring nature more than her teaching technique. "She was actually more concerned about my career than how I did in class," one student commented. "She wanted me to find something in life as well as in the classroom."
Perhaps that's why Plann goes beyond the classroom to broaden students' knowledge. "Seeing students, even recalcitrant ones, master complex linguistic theories was a source of satisfaction, but seeing many of them graduate with a poor command of Spanish and little or no familiarity with the greater Latino community filled me with a growing frustration," Plann said.
So she created service-learning courses that required to students to tutor Spanish-speaking high schoolers or teach literacy to Spanish-speaking adults. They now work as volunteers with more than 20 community groups. "One undergraduate called it 'getting out of the UCLA bubble,'" Plann recalled. As a result of her success, language classes across campus now include service learning components.
Yung-Ya Lin Eby Award for the Art of Teaching
Associate Professor Yung-Ya Lin.
In evaluating Associate Professor Lin's courses, many students remark that "he appears to have stayed up all night to personally grade their exams so that he can return them in time for [the] most effective follow-up," recounted his colleague in the chemistry and biochemistry department, Professor William Gelbart. "Even after getting no sleep — he delivers the next morning a lecture as original and vigorous as ever. … So it's not surprising that when his classes also notice, for example, that his trusty sweater is worn or torn, they spontaneously make a gift of a new one to him."
Lin's scores on student evaluations constitute "the strongest multi-year performance in the history of the department," Gelbart said. Students note with awe that Lin learned all their names. "For Dr. Lin, there is no such thing as office hours, because you can e-mail, speak to (and probably even text-message) him whenever you have a question."
Lin is so good, Gelbart continued, that his students disregard a trait other students frequently note in their evaluation of other foreign-born professors — a strong accent. But not in Lin's case.
"The students invariably see Yung-Ya as a teacher who is deeply devoted to helping them," Gelbart said. "They are deeply touched by the fact that, no matter how hard they are being asked to work, … their professor is working harder and longer."
"He cares about students very much," one student wrote anonymously on an evaluation form. "He knows every student's progress by heart. He is the BEST teacher I have ever had in my life."