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Eleven Faculty Members Honored with College Teaching Excellence Award

Eleven Faculty Members Honored with College Teaching Excellence Award
CNS teaching excellence award winners Aaron Zimmerman, Ann Thijs, Ariel Taylor, Ladia Hernandez, Shinko Harper, Keith Hawkins, Soo Hyun Yang, Sarah Abraham, Kathryn Dabbs, KyongJoo Hong and Fatima Varner

​The Teaching Excellence Award in the College of Natural Sciences seeks to promote and recognize outstanding teaching in the College of Natural Sciences by honoring faculty members who have had a positive influence on the educational experience of our students. In a year marked by having to adapt to teaching during a pandemic, each award winner went above and beyond to deliver their best in the classroom.

Sarah Abraham, assistant professor of instruction, Computer Science

Abraham teaches programming classes related to graphics and video game development. Her classes emphasize collaboration and teamwork in addition to technical skills. She makes the material feel practical and relevant by bringing in guest speakers from industry. She is interested in non-photorealistic rendering, as well as creating artist tools that make physical simulation intuitive and accessible. She is the founder and president of Akula Games, which focuses on developing collaborative, artistic and educational games. The company's main project, Skazka, explores prosocial cooperative mechanics for fostering empathy.

Kathryn Dabbs, assistant professor of instruction, Mathematics

Dabbs earned her Ph.D. in mathematics, studying homogeneous dynamics, at The University of Texas at Austin in 2017. Before that, she attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she studied math, computer science and Latin. Today, she focuses on undergraduate education and enjoys teaching pre-calculus, math for future teachers and discrete math. She also enjoys running long distances, gardening and taking care of two cats and a puppy.

Shinko Harper, associate professor of instruction, Mathematics

Harper earned her Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 1997, then joined the faculty in 1998. She teaches a variety of topics in mathematics including courses in actuarial science, an introduction to writing proofs and calculus. Her focus is on developing a community of learners through synchronous and asynchronous activities centered around student interactions. 

Keith Hawkins, assistant professor, Astronomy

Hawkins received his B.S. in astrophysics with minors in mathematics and African studies from the Honors Tutorial College at Ohio University as a Templeton and Goldwater Scholar in 2013. Hawkins then completed a Ph.D. in astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge in the UK as a British Marshall Scholar. He went on to complete a Simon's Foundation Junior Research Fellowship at Columbia University in New York City between 2016-2018. Hawkins joined the faculty at UT Austin in 2018 and has been named a Kavli and Scialog fellow. He actively teaches several courses including the large introduction to astronomy for non-majors. His scientific research interests are primarily in galactic archaeology, with the goal of revealing the formation and evolution of our galaxy, the Milky Way, through detailed chemical and dynamical studies of its billions of stars.

Ladia Hernandez, assistant professor of instruction, Nutritional Sciences

Hernandez is a native Texan from Victoria who received her undergraduate degree from Texas Tech University and her graduate degrees from Texas Woman's University – Houston Center. She worked in epidemiologic research at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a decade before arriving at UT Austin in 2011. She has been conducting nutritional epidemiology research for over 20 years and is a Registered Dietitian. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and is fully invested in educating, training and mentoring students who seek an interest in dietetics and/or research. She has a commitment to ensuring that the information, education and experience she brings to her students enables them to achieve their education goals.

KyongJoo Hong, assistant professor of instruction, Statistics and Data Sciences

Hong joined the Department of Statistics and Data Sciences in 2018. She mainly teaches two large undergraduate statistics courses: Data Analysis for the Health Sciences and the Elements of Regression. She worked as a counselor in South Korea before attending The University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a second Master's and a doctoral degree from the Educational Psychology department. Her research interests include fathering, children's internal and external issues and academic success. She is interested in holistic support to college students, focusing on a student's intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual well-being collectively.

Ariel J. Taylor, assistant professor of practice, Director of UTeach Accelerate

Taylor is the Director of UTeach Accelerate, a secondary STEM teacher preparation program for degree holders and career changers. As a UTeach alumna, Taylor is passionate about providing pre-service teachers experiences that truly reflect occurrences in the field. She works to enrich authenticity in all dialogues and present opportunities for her students to explore ways to encourage diversity in math and science classrooms. Taylor has worked in education for 11 years as a high school mathematics instructor, instructional specialist and assistant professor of practice. Taylor holds a Master of Arts in Mathematics as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, both from The University of Texas at Austin. She received her Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) with a focus on Professional Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Houston. Taylor is the Founding Director of The RISE Project 501(c)3, which focuses on providing opportunities to students in rural communities to help level the playing field and encourage rural and minority youth to reach beyond what they can see. Taylor has presented at schools and conferences around the world to assist educators in providing quality learning opportunities, and she is the author of the 2018 book, "Party of Four Please!: A Standards-Based Approach to Differentiation through Blended Learning."

Ann Thijs, assistant professor of instruction, Biology Instruction Office

Thijs is an interdisciplinary scientist with a passion for undergraduate education. She earned a dual undergraduate degree in biology and engineering from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in her home country of Belgium. After this, she completed a Master's in environmental engineering, also at KU Leuven. In 2004, Thijs started as an international student in the Ecology, Evolution and Behavior graduate program at The University of Texas at Austin, where her work shifted from nitrogen and phosphorus to carbon cycling, coupled to the climate system. Since earning her Ph.D., Thijs has taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, and came back to UT Austin in 2017, where she teaches Introductory Biology I and Introductory Biology II. She delights in teaching her students the elegance and interconnectedness of the natural world in evolutionary and ecological time and in helping students to become critical and quantitative thinkers. Since the start of the pandemic, she has flipped her courses to allow for plenty of active learning to fully engage her students. 

Fatima Varner, assistant professor, Human Development and Family Sciences

Varner earned her Ph.D. in human development & social policy at Northwestern University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context at the University of Michigan. Varner's major research interests include the roles of ethnicity, gender and context on family processes and adolescent outcomes. She is especially interested in the pathways through which racial discrimination and other race-related stressors influence parenting and adolescents' academic achievement in Black families. In addition, she studies how contextual factors and coping influence African American parents' psychological well-being. Varner is also currently conducting a meta-analysis funded by the Institute of Education Sciences on the links between school-based marginalization and academic achievement and social-behavioral competencies.

Soo Hyun Yang, assistant professor of practice, Freshman Research Initiative

Yang leads a Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) research stream called "Biobricks for Molecular Machines." In her research stream, she guides her students in developing molecular and biochemical lab skills, critical thinking, verbal and written communication in science and application of general principles to a research setting. One of the major goals Yang pursues in her stream is to engage students with authentic research experiences through active collaborations with various research labs on campus.

Aaron Zimmerman, assistant professor, Physics

Zimmerman works in the field of gravitational wave physics, observing and studying extreme objects like black holes and neutron stars. He is from New Mexico originally, and he benefited from excellent role models in teaching while finishing high school in Albuquerque and then attending the University of New Mexico for his undergraduate studies. He received his Ph.D. from Caltech, where he researched general relativity and astrophysics with Professor Yanbei Chen. Zimmerman then moved to the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Physics as a postdoctoral fellow, and remained there until joining the faculty at UT Austin. He is glad to teach and work in a place where he can see the night sky and get fresh Hatch green chilies in the fall.

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Wednesday, 07 December 2022

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