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Award-Winning Teachers Help Students Make Their Own Discoveries

From Inside UVA
April 28, 1995

S ixteen university faculty members and five graduate teaching assistants and fellows have been selected as this year's outstanding teaching award winners.

The prestigious University-wide awards honor dedicated and exceptional teaching. Winners are chosen through an intense selection process by the University's teaching awards committee, which receives dozens of nominations and testimonials from students and faculty colleagues.

"Each year, committee members remark that they find themselves humbled and inspired by the high quality of teaching around Grounds," said Marva A. Barnett, associate professor of French and director of the Teaching Resource Center, which coordinates the awards.

The award finalists' statements about their teaching philosophies are so useful, they are made available through the Teaching Resource Center to anyone interested, Ms. Barnett added.

The 1994-95 teaching award winners are:

John C. Jeffries Jr., professor of law, and Joseph F. Kett, professor of history: co-winners of the Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award. The award is given to a faculty member who excelled as a teacher and made significant contributions to the life of U.Va. over at least a decade. The co-winners each receive a $1,500 prize.

Suzanne G. Cusick, assistant professor of music: the Alumni Board of Trustees Teaching Award. The award, given to an assistant professor who demonstrated special teaching talent and skill, carries a $2,500 stipend, with a $1,500 additional support, and offers a semester research assignment.

Winners of the All-University Outstanding Teaching Awards, recognizing excellence in teaching and ability to inspire and motivate students and each offering a $2,000 prize, are:

Graduate student and graduate fellow winners of the All-University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Awards are chosen from a pool of departmental outstanding T.A. award winners. Each University-wide award carries a $1,000 prize and recognizes excellence in teaching and outstanding contributions to the overall teaching mission of the University. Winners are:

Through the Teaching Resource Center, University Teaching Fellows Awards support six assistant professors each year in efforts to develop outstanding undergraduate teaching skills. Working with specialists inside and outside the University they develop a new course in their field or substantially revise one. Winners of the fellowships for the coming academic year are:

Earlier this year, Patricia M. Spacks, professor of English, and Robert F. Bruner, professor of business administration, were nominated by the awards committee and chosen among a group of faculty members across the state as winners of the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Awards. The highly selective annual awards, funded by the General Assembly and honoring faculty for their contributions to their students, their disciplines and the public, carry a $5,000 prize.


Assistant Professor of Computer Science Gabriel Robins is no stranger to the trenches. As a member of the prestigious Defense Science Study Group, a select advisory board to the U.S. Department of Defense, he routinely visits U.S. military installations to share his expertise in advanced technology. Both in his scholarship and in his teaching, Mr. Robins is known to dig in. As one doctoral candidate wrote, "There have been many times when Gabe's assistance at 2 a.m. has made all the difference."

"Good teaching is essential to molding top-notch future engineers, researchers, and academicians," Mr. Robins said. "I strongly believe that teaching and research are not independent endeavors, but rather are synergetic processes; teaching can lead to good research topics and conversely, research often provides new ways of teaching and explaining."

"The sheer extent of Mr. Robins' knowledge provides the solid core of his teaching," said Professor John Pfaltz. "His well-organized lectures are dense with information. At the same time, his understanding gives him the security to make his classes fun, frequently enlivening lectures with props such as his famous Lego models," he added.

In addition to winning the 1994 National Science Foundation (NSF) Young Investigator Award - worth $500,000 over five years - Mr. Robins received one of six University Teaching Fellowships this year from the Teaching Resource Center, and also garnered an All-University Outstanding Teaching Award.

But recognition of his excellence doesn't stop there. Mr. Robins was recently nominated by U.Va. for the NSF's Presidential Faculty Fellows Award and the Packard Foundation Fellowship, each worth $500,000 in research funds. Universities are allowed at most two nominations per year for each of these awards and this year Mr. Robins was nominated for both.

Former student Todd D. Hodes, recipient of a doctoral fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley said, "I cannot be sure where I would be if I had never met Gabriel Robins, but I am certain that I would not have come this far. He showed us [students] that we were all problem-solvers, and that with practice and hard work, we can all achieve great things."


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