Campus honors 'best of the best' with year-end teaching awards

Committee on Teaching chair Charlie McDowell (fourth from left) and Chancellor Blumenthal are flanked by UCSC's 2012-13 Excellence in Teaching Award recipients: (l–r) Susan Strome, Lindsay Knisely, Vilashini Cooppan, Stefano Profumo, Raoul Birnbaum, Shell
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On a campus known for its commitment to undergraduates, one of the highest honors faculty can receive is an Excellence in Teaching Award. At the end of the academic year, seven teachers were recognized for inspiring students with a passion that comes straight from the heart.

This year's recipients work across the disciplines, from literature to physics, united by a willingness to experiment and challenge themselves in pursuit of excellence. As Chancellor George Blumenthal told this year's recipients during a recent reception to present the 2013 awards, "Excellent teaching is a core value at UC Santa Cruz. It's central to the student experience. You give life to our values."

Among this year's recipients, molecular, cell, and developmental biology professor Susan Strome was honored for creating an outstanding learning environment for more than 1,000 students who take genetics at UCSC each year.

Strome uses clickers to stimulate discussion, overhauled homework assignments to challenge students to think creatively about abstract concepts, and gives legendary in-class demonstrations: She uses pipe cleaners, beads, pool noodles, and glow sticks to model key concepts and developed skits to act out biological processes. She reinforces classroom learning by offering hands-on workshops outside of class and is a dedicated mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Students describe her as kind, helpful, respectful, available, approachable, eager to help students, and fair. In perhaps the most telling testament, one wrote that she "really seems to love teaching."

Strome was recruited from Indiana University in 2007 because of her portfolio of research accomplishments and her leadership in the development of new and innovative strategies for teaching genetics.

Administered by the Academic Senate's Committee on Teaching, the awards are presented annually to "the best of the best." For the first time, finalists this year were asked to provide a statement of their teaching philosophy, and department chairs submitted letters of support for each finalist. Winners were selected from among more than 150 nominees submitted by students.

The teaching award includes a prize of $500.