2022-23 Distinguished Teaching Award Winners Announced
The Center for Teaching and Learning has announced the 2022-23 winners of the Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA). Since 1961, the University of Massachusetts has presented the Distinguished Teaching Award to instructors who demonstrate exemplary teaching at the highest institutional level. This highly competitive and prestigious campus-wide honor is the only student-initiated award on campus.
Lena Fletcher, senior lecturer, environmental conservation
Lena Fletcher teaches introductory and general education courses about the environment and society and is a leader in contemplative pedagogy at UMass. In her teaching, she guides students using reflection, meditation and mindfulness to navigate their perspectives on global sustainability challenges and their own relationship with the environment. As she notes in her statement, “I aim to inspire and motivate my students to honestly and directly engage with the state of the world.” These activities, as one student noted, “set the space for an inviting learning environment.” Fletcher also incorporates community-based group projects into her classes that allow students to meaningfully engage with the environmental challenges they have been discussing in the classroom. Along the way, students create and share documentaries to describe their experiences, resulting in a collection of nearly 250 student-created documentaries. As one student said, “Students leave her classroom not only with new knowledge, but with an eagerness to make a difference.”
Sravan Surampudi, senior lecturer, chemistry
Sravan Surampudi is a past recipient of the Department of Chemistry Distinguished Undergraduate Instructor Award and teaches large enrollment classes in chemistry. He works to inspire intrinsic motivation in course subjects through a focus on real-life, engaging examples. As one student described, “Prof. Surampudi described organic chemistry with the use of visual models and analogies that made complicated conceptual names…easy to remember.” He has also developed innovative teaching models that have been adopted at the departmental level, including Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) for organic chemistry. In his teaching statement, Surampudi notes he was motivated to design this program to help mediate the fear that many students have in taking this course. Students are placed into peer groups that are facilitated by a student leader, who receives training and guidance from Surampudi. One student leader shared from their experience with PLTL, “the confidence I have gained from this program has been invaluable to me and my ability to assist others in their learning has skyrocketed.”
Graduate Student Awards
Ajit Kumar, physics
Ajit Kumar is a doctoral student in physics and has been an instructor for both introductory and upper-level courses as well as a teaching assistant for a team-based learning course. Kumar’s teaching focuses creating opportunities for all students to learn physics by offering multiple ways to seek support. For example, he created online forums in his courses to provide another way of communicating and asking questions that might be less intimidating than coming to office hours or asking a question in class. Further, many students noted Kumar’s ability to guide them through complex problems with thoughtful questions. As one student commented, “His ability to be able to explain complex concepts in a multitude of ways, all of which are simple and effective, is another one of his strengths as a teacher.” Further, Kumar gives particular attention to student mindset, identity biases and other factors that influence student beliefs in their abilities when working with students to foster their analytical thinking skills. As one student shared, “He sees the potential in each student he works with, and he certainly saw it in me. Ajit is able to ignite confidence in students in a way that I have not experienced with other teaching assistants before.”
Read about the other award recipients.