Select Faculty Honored as Outstanding Teachers

Four UA faculty members have been recognized for their outstanding achievements in teaching: Laura Gutiérrez, Lester I. McCann, Vicente Talanquer and Thomas Wilson.
March 29, 2012
"I believe the essence of a great teacher is the ability to help other people become their best. In my mind, Dr. [Lester I.] McCann goes above and beyond this description," said one nominating student. (Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
"I believe the essence of a great teacher is the ability to help other people become their best. In my mind, Dr. [Lester I.] McCann goes above and beyond this description," said one nominating student. (Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
Laura Gutiérrez "has discovered a successful way to introduce students to both theory and its practical application, allowing students to see both the trees in their backyard and the larger forest they are a part of." (Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
Laura Gutiérrez "has discovered a successful way to introduce students to both theory and its practical application, allowing students to see both the trees in their backyard and the larger forest they are a part of." (Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
Vicente Talanquer "is an exemplary teacher and is a shining example of a faculty member whose research in how students learn enables him to make widespread disciplinary changes in practice. He can talk the talk, but from the students' point of view, he can also walk the walk," said one nominator.(Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
Vicente Talanquer "is an exemplary teacher and is a shining example of a faculty member whose research in how students learn enables him to make widespread disciplinary changes in practice. He can talk the talk, but from the students' point of view, he can also walk the walk," said one nominator.(Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
Thomas Wilson "shows care of each of his students and has the desire to help them succeed in every way possible. He is a wealth of information and is always willing to assist even if this means putting in extra effort and time." (Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
Thomas Wilson "shows care of each of his students and has the desire to help them succeed in every way possible. He is a wealth of information and is always willing to assist even if this means putting in extra effort and time." (Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)

The University of Arizona Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost and the UA Foundation are honoring associate professor Laura Gutiérrez, senior lecturer Lester I. McCann, associate professor Vicente Talanquer and lecturer Thomas Wilson for their outstanding achievements in teaching

These honors include the Henry and Phyllis Koffler Prize awarded to Talanquer for his contributions to the department of chemistry and biochemistry; the UA Foundation Leicester and Kathryn Sherrill Creative Teaching Award honoring McCann in the department of computer science; and the Provost's General Education Teaching Award honoring Wilson in the department of soil, water and environmental science and Gutiérrez for her work in the department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Award recipients will be honored at the Awards of Distinction Ceremony in April at the Student Union Memorial Center. 

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Provost's General Education Teaching Awards acknowledge extraordinary quality and creativity in the teaching of general education courses.

Thomas Wilson, lecturer in the UA department of soil, water and environmental science

Wilson's responsibilities principally are associated with undergraduate education including the development and teaching of a course for the UA Honors College.

He is considered the cornerstone of the undergraduate education program within the UA department of soil, water and environmental science and serves as chair for the Curriculum Committee.

He also is a member of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Curriculum Committee working to address, revise or improve courses for undergraduate students and serves as a faculty advisor for the environmental science and sustainable plant systems undergraduate degrees.

He combines classroom teaching with a significant amount of field experience including active research at Biosphere 2 and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. In addition, he facilitates a study abroad program in Namibia where he teaches a six-week course in desert ecology and conservation biology.

"His enthusiasm and passion for biology are infectious. He demonstrates critical thinking and scientific perspectives in ways that are evident and accessible. When you see Tom interact with students, it is evident that teaching and learning work two ways," one of the nominators said.

Laura Gutiérrez, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the UA department of Spanish and Portuguese

Gutiérrez's area of specialization is Latin American and Latina/o cultural studies. She teaches the tier 1 general education course TRAD 104 called "Issues in Latin American Society and Popular Cultures." This course introduces a wide-range of students to the popular culture of Latin America and the U.S. Latino/a context.

A thorough historical and social contextualization sets the background for the course and its analysis of the interconnections between popular cultural production and consumption.

Additionally, the course focuses on how popular cultural forms are connected to categories of analysis: race, gender, sexuality, nation and transnationalism. Course syllabi reveal exciting material accompanied by rigorous analytical tools that enable students to engage in unprecedented ways of thinking about popular culture.

The course was designed to be a bridge between the bases of a liberal education and concentrated work in the major. Her classes reflect that, inspiring many of those enrolled in her courses to major in Spanish and to excel in their advanced work.

She designs her courses with the eye of a facilitator who works to provide the critical tools to help students analyze what they consume from popular and mass culture, not only in the classroom but beyond.

Gutiérrez is in the midst of creating a textbook for courses on Latin American and Latina/o popular culture, as there are no textbooks that adequately present the theoretical material in a way that is accessible to undergraduate students.

"Her creative and investigative mind, in addition to her love for teaching and strong theoretical background, makes her a wonderful teacher, who not only attracts students to the field of literary and cultural studies but also, helps them become truly competent thinkers," said one nominator.

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The Koffler Prize for Teaching recognizes outstanding accomplishments and honor individuals who have made major contributions in their fields with an emphasis on originality.

Vicente Talanquer, associate professor in the UA department of chemistry and biochemistry

Talanquer is a teacher's teacher. His dedication to the field includes: undergraduate level teaching, the development of new classroom and online teaching curriculum, the training of secondary school science teachers, the advising of chemistry education doctoral students, and contributing to the literature in the area of chemical education, as well as the development of online instructional materials that are freely accessible.

He contributes to research in the fields of chemical and science education for both the English and Spanish-speaking worlds, developing theories of learning that impact the practice of science teaching from early education through graduate school.

He worked with colleagues in the UA department of chemistry and biochemistry to redesign the general chemistry lectures and laboratories into an integrated course, now Chemistry 151/152, with the goals of building a stronger connection between the lecture and laboratory and to create a more student-centered learning environment, resulting in higher standardized test scores.

In addition, Talanquer and his colleague, John Pollard were awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to further redesign the general chemistry course to teach students how chemists think rather than simply focusing on teaching the facts of chemistry. Students in the course address realistic problems such as air pollution and energy production using the principles of chemistry as it relates to everyday life, in a practical way.

He also has greatly contributed to the instruction of future science teachers by developing many innovations to the program including online courses that train future high school science teachers. Together with his colleagues in the Science Teacher Preparation Program in the College of Science, Talanquer has worked to provide authentic opportunities for future teachers to work in secondary school classrooms under the supervision of experienced mentor teachers.

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The Leicester and Kathryn Sherrill Creative Teaching Award recognizes excellence in the art of teaching at all levels, with an emphasis on teaching at the undergraduate level.

Lester I. McCann, senior lecturer, UA department of computer science

McCann teaches lower and upper division computer science classes where he has gained numerous teaching awards and consistently rates among students as one of the best instructors in the department.

He is an innovative teacher who readily takes advantage of technological developments to enhance and improve his course materials and teaching. Early on, he implemented podcasts and video lectures and developed and refined a Tablet-PC based slide format that allows for guided and on-the-fly note taking that can be downloaded after the lecture – a system that has been presented and encouraged for wider use among the educational community.

As one nominator noted, "What makes Dr. McCann a great one are the ways in which he rises above the limitations that other instructors accept as insurmountable, adjusting his practices to address the pitfalls specific to the course material."

McCann takes personal interest in the career development of young individuals, imparting upon them the skills necessary for them to succeed in undergraduate and post-graduate life, not only in the classroom but as the coordinator of the department's Section Leader program.

The Section Leader program is a highly competitive preceptorship program wherein undergraduate students lead classroom discussion sections in smaller groups. The program has become a hiring ground for the computer field, with Microsoft and Google looking to hire students who have gained valuable communication and problem-solving skills in group settings.

His teaching philosophy takes on a personal interest in the career development of young individuals by imparting in them skills through lectures worth attending, the encouragement to learn by doing, the presentation of materials from multiple perspectives and the preparation of students for subsequent classes and careers.