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Alumni Honor Three CNS Faculty with Texas 10 Award

Alumni Honor Three CNS Faculty with Texas 10 Award

Every year, The Alcalde asks alumni about their favorite professors and honors the top choices with the Texas 10 award. These faculty members inspire their students and make a difference in the lives of many Longhorns. This year, three CNS faculty were chosen for the honor.

Sara Stewart Stevens

Assistant Professor of Practice and Program Director (Academic), the Division of Textiles and Apparel | Years at UT: 9

Photograph by Matt Wright-Steel for The Alcalde

Favorite Designer: "I'm not a high fashion person, but I love Christian Dior because of the shapes and silhouettes," Stevens says.

In 2016, at the age of 39, Sara Stevens was diagnosed with cancer after doctors found a malignant tumor in the front portion of her tongue. What followed was an aggressive treatment protocol, with surgery to remove part of her tongue and reconstruct it with tissue from her forearm. After that, radiation. But there was a moment months later when she was meeting with her speech therapy team that still makes her laugh. She was re-learning to speak, and the letter S was a struggle. "What's your name?" one of the therapists asked. "Sara Stewart Stevens," she managed. The therapist smiled sympathetically.

"And what do you do?" they asked. "I'm a professor," she said. And they all cracked up.

After a year away from work, Stevens was apprehensive to speak to a class again. But she remembers how welcoming the students were and happy to have her back. "I'm still learning and growing here," she told them. "So please be patient with me."

These days, her speech is almost like it was before the surgery and she is back to sharing her passion for "the democratization of fashion."

Stevens says she is all about the quality and function of a garment and making good design accessible for all.

"She always kept topics interesting and fun," her nominator wrote, "and put an emphasis on hands-on learning. She was an amazing support even through her battle with cancer and returned to UT stronger than even before."

Whether she is speaking at a lectern or taking her students to New York City to learn directly from fashion icon Iris Apfel, Stevens feels she is doing the work she was meant to do. "The more I have taught," she says, "the more I've realized this was my path all along." — Dorothy Guerrero

Alison Norman

Associate Professor of Instruction, Department of Computer
Science | Years at UT: 10

Photograph by Matt Wright-Steel for The Alcalde

It takes a village: Norman has weathered the pandemic with a little help from her family — all her family. The associate professor, her husband, and their three kids all live within walking distance of Norman's parents and her sister and brother-in-law.

Within minutes of meeting Alison Norman, it's easy to see why her students adore her. Bright and bubbly with an infectious laugh, the principles of computer systems professor has been a fixture in the computer science department for more than a decade, receiving both her MS and PhD from the school.

Though she's been teaching since her post- graduate days, redesigning her courses to be online (from home, with three children) has been a challenge. Norman says she's worked hard to not just be "a crazy talking head" over Zoom, but instead create a thoughtful learning environment where students feel connected. That means using technology to keep her classes engaged and on track with their education.

Norman was predestined to be a computer sciences professor. Growing up in Georgia, both of her parents worked at IBM and her father became a computer science professor at the University of Georgia. Still, she didn't jump into the family business right away, majoring in biology instead during her freshman year at Georgia Tech. "I was such a rule follower that my way of rebelling was majoring in another STEM field," she says with a laugh.

Eventually though, the tech bug bit and Norman decided to pursue a career in computer systems. What she's found along the way is a field where women and minorities are dramatically underrepresented, a trend she is working to reverse. In addition to creating an ethics course for freshmen, Norman pursues her own education, taking courses such as the history of the Black experience.

"I do think there's tons of people at UT working to make it better for the students, working to fight injustice and inequity, and it's just an amazing community to be a part of as people figure out what that looks like." — Katie Friel

Michael Marder

Professor, Department of Physics, Executive Director, UTeach
| Years at UT: 33

Photograph by Matt Wright-Steel for The Alcalde

Good surprise: Born in New York and raised in Illinois, Marder had never stepped foot in Texas until 1988, when he flew in for a job interview. "I had never visited Texas before," he says, adding that he was surprised by how much he was taken with Austin. "It was the first of many surprises for me — and they've all been good surprises."

One would think someone who researches chaos would not be keen on strapping on scuba gear and jumping into the oceanic abyss, but that's exactly what Michael Marder does to relax. (But when your wife is a world-renowned underwater archaeologist and your daughter runs a Cretian dive shop, it counts as family bonding.)

On dry land, however, Marder has spent most of his academic life studying chaos theory, or the idea that though we think we can predict how things probably will turn out, it's impossible to know for certain. "Take the weather," Marder says, "despite all the satellites, we don't know what's going to happen."

It was by a seemingly random pattern that Marder ended up with a three-decade-long career in teaching. At UT, where he teaches students across a variety of majors, and was awarded the Texas Exes' Elizabeth Shatto Massey Award for being a "teacher of teachers" in 2008, Marder says he tries to remember back to his days as an undergrad at Cornell or a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara. "I've really tried to remember what it felt like to walk into someone's office and be treated abruptly," he explains. And so, as a professor, he approaches every semester as both an opportunity to teach and be taught.

"The master teachers [at UT], I continue to learn from them," he says. "It comes more easily than others. It's not humility to say that I have had to work very hard." — Katie Friel

This content was cross-posted from The Alcalde, the magazine of the Texas Exes.

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Wednesday, 01 February 2023

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