Senate, federation awards spotlight teaching, research
June 8, 2007
By Dateline staff
Innovative and inspiring are two of the common denominators in descriptions of this year's teaching award recipients at UC Davis.
The Academic Senate named six distinguished teachers: professors John Harada and David Van Leer at the undergraduate level, and professors Gail Finney, Kent Pinkerton, Subhash Risbud and Michael Wilkes at the graduate level.
The Academic Federation, representing lecturers, librarians, scientists, agronomists, academic coordinators, and extension staff personnel who are not members of the senate, cited two teachers for excellence: lecturers Erwin Bautista and Janet Lane.
The federation also gave an excellence in research award — honoring medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro for his cutting-edge exploration of two of the most critical diseases in the developing world: malaria and leishmaniasis.
The federation honored its award recipients at a May 17 reception, while the senate plans an awards program in February.
Academic Senate: Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching
- John Harada, Section of Plant Biology, "is a truly inspirational teacher who can excite and motivate his students, even those in his classes who have a self-proclaimed dislike of plants!" wrote his primary nominators, Professor William Lucas, section chair, in a letter also signed by Professor Anne Britt, vice chair for instruction. They described Harada's "dedication and passion" for teaching PLB 113, a course that he developed to focus on hypothesis testing rather than rote memorization. The nominators also cited his collaboration with Professor Venkatesan Sundaresan to revamp PLB 112, "largely abandoning the traditional textbooks" because they lagged behind advances in the field. Instead, the professors relied on lecture notes derived from current research literature.
- David Van Leer, Department of English, "approaches his work with enormous zest and erudition," wrote his primary nominator, Professor Joanne Feit Diehl, chair of the English department's Honors and Awards Committee. Van Leer's courses range from the Puritans to the Broadway musical, and his innovations include courses on queer film and fiction. Diehl described his Sexuality in Film course as popular and successful, even among heterosexuals — by far the majority of the enrollment — who "did not in general feel alienated by the materials or shut out from general discussion." Diehl wrote that Van Leer is in the forefront of the use of technology in the humanities.
Academic Senate: Distinguished Graduate Teaching
- Gail Finney, Department of Comparative Literature (German and Russian), "needs to be rewarded for her unwavering dedication to her students, who hold her in the highest esteem and with the deepest affection, our Doktormutter (Doctor Mother, or dissertation director)," declared Wendy Nielsen, writing on behalf of herself and 14 other former and current students of Finney's. Nielsen, an assistant professor in the Department of English at Montclair State University, N.J., wrote that Finney's reading selections for her classes are guided by her "impressive command" of European drama and literature. The nominators also noted Finney's highly efficient and well organized lectures.
- Kent Pinkerton, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, strives to present his lectures in as clear a manner as possible, wrote Professor Robert Hansen, the acting department chair, who added that Pinkerton's more important contribution to student learning takes place in the many laboratory sessions that he leads. "It is in the laboratory where one-on-one learning can take place, and he is marvelous in that role," Hansen wrote. He noted Pinkerton's creation of a virtual heart teaching tool, and he recalled this quote that he said he has heard Pinkerton use: "Thoracic structures will never change, but the ways this material can be presented to the student are endless."
- Subhash Risbud, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, is "inspirational and involved," according to his primary nominator, Professor Robert Powell, who cited a variety of graduate student comments. Here is an example: "I will register for any of Prof. Risbud's classes, regardless of content or relevancy to my degree, simply on the caliber of his instruction." Powell also noted Risbud's participation in the Freshman Seminars Program, leading sections on such topics as Indian Classical Music, and the Integrated Studies Honors Program, with a section titled The Way Life Works: The Biological and Materials Sciences. Risbud is a former department chair and now serves as director of the Internship and Career Center.
- Michael Wilkes, School of Medicine, "has an ability to meet each student at the individual's particular point of development and inspire maximum achievement." wrote his primary nominator, Danit Ariel, a fourth-year medical student. Commenting on Wilkes' teaching in the adolescent medicine clinic and the free community clinic for intravenous drug users and sex workers, Ariel noted that Wilkes did not focus solely on the assigned task at hand, "but also aimed at ensuring that the students understood his reasoning for choosing a specific treatment." Ariel also noted that Wilkes is widely applauded for his efforts to introduce students to the humanistic side of medicine.
Academic Federation: Excellence in Teaching
- Erwin Bautista, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, received his doctorate at UC Davis in 2001. He started his teaching career here by imitating others who bombarded students with information, according to a profile posted on the Academic Federation's Web site. "He soon realized that his students were becoming adept at memorizing facts and jargon, without making connections or mastering the concepts that make them significant." Today, he does not discourage memorization of the facts, but first "he explains the big picture and teaches principles by applying them to specific problems." And, knowing that visual images enhance students' understanding and retention of concepts, he uses creative board work to complement his verbal explanations.
- Janet Lane, Department of Linguistics, is also a UC Davis graduate, receiving her bachelor of arts in linguistics and Spanish, a master of arts in linguistics, and a teaching certificate in the Teaching of English to Teachers of Other Languages. According to the graduate students who nominated her for the Academic Federation teaching award, Lane is a devoted, innovative and student-oriented instructor whose teaching is not just an art form but a science, "They appreciate her knowledge of and sensitivity to diverse students, noting that she has taught students from 50 countries and studied the specific difficulties that derive from different first languages," states a profile on the federation's Web site.
Academic Federation: Excellence in Research
- Gregory Lanzaro is director of the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases, the statewide UC Mosquito Research Program, and the statewide UC Malaria Research and Control Group. In researching malaria, he looks at population genetics related to Anopheles gambiae, the African mosquito that carries the disease. In studying leishmaniasis, another life-threatening parasitic disease — this one transmitted by the blood-sucking sand fly — Lanzaro explores the molecular and immunological interactions between the fly and its human hosts. Malaria infects some 300 million to 500 million people and kills more than a million people a year. Leishmaniasis infects 12 million people in 88 countries. Lanzaro's lab was the first to employ microsatellite DNA markers to study patterns of gene flow among A. gambiae populations in Africa.
Kathy Keatley Garvey, a communicator for the UC Statewide Mosquito Research Program, contributed to this report.
Return to the previous page