Originally published August 22, 2014
By Daniel Perez
UTEP News Service
Five Miners – a professional engineer, a special education advocate, a political scientist, a statistician and an English man – have joined the most prestigious club created by The University of Texas System Board of Regents.
The University of Texas at El Paso faculty members were among the recipients of the 2014 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award during an Aug. 20 dinner ceremony in Austin. Each will receive $25,000, a medallion and a commemorative certificate.
The UTEP honorees are: Ivonne Santiago, Ph.D., clinical professor of civil engineering; Gita Upreti, Ph.D., assistant professor of special education; Jose Villalobos, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science; Amy Wagler, Ph.D., assistant professor of statistics; and Brian Yothers, Ph.D., associate professor of English.
This year’s quintet brings the total number of UTEP Outstanding Teaching Award recipients to 48. Along with teaching excellence, they share an interest in research, mentoring, and campus and community involvement.
Recipients are selected from the system’s 15 academic and health campuses. Nominees are evaluated on a range of criteria to include classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes. Peers, students and institutional leaders nominate candidates.
“Once again, UTEP faculty have been honored through a rigorous and exceptionally competitive process with the system’s highest award and join a distinguished cadre of influential individuals,” said UTEP Provost Junius Gonzales. He referenced 19th century American historian Henry Brooks Adams, who said teachers affect eternity. “We know their positive influence on students can be unending.”
“We are proud of the latest group of talented UTEP faculty to be recognized by the Board of Regents for their superior work,” said University President Diana Natalicio. “These awards reflect the high quality of instruction offered at this institution and our faculty’s dedication to excellence and student success. We thank the UT System Board of Regents for their continuing commitment to honor our best teachers, and we celebrate the achievements of these dedicated faculty members. I congratulate all of them.”
The brilliance of the UT System’s teaching faculty plays a critical role in its efforts to provide a first-class learning experience for students, said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D.
“These awards are a reflection of the Regents placing the highest priority on undergraduate, graduate and professional teaching excellence systemwide,” Cigarroa said.
The faculty members appreciate the Regents’ recognition, and are humbled by it. They plan to use it as an incentive to grow as educators and help their future students reach greater heights.
Ivonne Santiago earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, her master’s in environmental systems engineering from Clemson University in South Carolina and her doctorate in civil engineering with a specialty in environmental engineering from New Mexico State University. She is a licensed professional engineer in Puerto Rico and New Mexico. She is starting her sixth year at UTEP.
“My teaching is best exemplified through my insistence on connecting education to professional practice,” she said. “I strive to continuously guide the learning of the engineering student and engineer intern so they can envision their lives as engineers and enthusiastically engage in lifelong learning, which is a trademark of a professional engineer.”
Gita Upreti has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin and holds master’s and doctoral degrees in special education and behavioral disorders from the University of Arizona. She has taught at UTEP since 2010, and many of her courses have a strong online component.
“It is an absolute privilege and responsibility to prepare teachers for their work of shaping young minds to meet future challenges,” Upreti said. “The instruction our pre-service teachers receive will determine the quality of education for future generations in the Paso del Norte region. I am honored to receive recognition for that effort at UTEP, and I hope to continue to prepare future educators to meet the needs of all students in their classrooms, particularly those with disabilities.”
José D. Villalobos received his undergraduate degree in political science from The University of Texas at San Antonio and his Ph.D. in American politics and public administration/public policy from Texas A&M. He started at UTEP in 2009. His core areas of research are presidential management and policy making, and the public presidency.
“Motivating students to develop into critical thinkers and lifelong learners dedicated to serving their community is undoubtedly the most important and rewarding contribution one can make as an educator,” Villalobos said. “I believe it is essential to set a positive tone and provide clear standards for student performance by introducing a social science framework for understanding key concepts and relationships, encouraging interactive discussions, emphasizing the necessity of respect for different points of view and cultures, and calling for diligence and professionalism in the completion of course tasks.”
Amy Wagler earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, and her master’s and doctorate in statistics from Oklahoma State University. She started at UTEP in fall 2008. Her prime research area is simultaneous inference in generalized linear and generalized linear mixed model settings and in statistical pedagogy and education.
“One of my strengths as a teacher is in building a respectful and humanizing classroom environment where the contributions of each and every student are valued,” Wagler said. “This is important so that students feel empowered to take risks and make genuine attempts to learn new or difficult concepts. When students feel empowered to learn, they can gain proficiency and, ultimately, achieve their learning goals.”
Brian Yothers earned his bachelor’s in English from Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana, and his master’s and doctorate in English from Purdue University. His doctoral focus was on American Literature to 1865. He has been at UTEP since 2004. He has directed the graduate studies and literature programs since 2010 and teaches early and 19th century literature.
“Teaching well is a matter of working hard, year after year, through trial and error, to find ways to communicate more clearly with students, to listen more attentively to them, to involve them more deeply in the process of discovery, and to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and to improve one’s own strategies in and out of the physical classroom,” he said.