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Honors and Awards

2022-23 Distinguished Teaching Award Winners Announced

Center for Teaching and Learning

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.

Faculty Awards

Caitlyn Butler, associate professor, civil and environmental engineering

Caitlyn Butler is a former Lilly Teaching Fellow and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on biological processes in civil and environmental engineering. Butler’s teaching focuses on building an inclusive learning environment with particular attention to neurodiversity in her classes. She has developed a mastery-based approach to learning which separates “the rate at which students learn from their aptitude for learning by offering multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.” As one student shared, “Dr. Butler made the material approachable and applicable, and instilled the classroom with a sense of calm curiosity. This helped alleviate my anxiety about learning new concepts and skills and rendered a challenging class much more enjoyable.” In this way, she uses course assessments as an instrument for learning and allows students to choose the type of assessment that best suits their needs. One student noted that in Professor Butler’s course they felt like an “active partner in the learning process.”

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.”

Rebecca Lorimer Leonard, associate professor, English

Rebecca Lorimer Leonard is a past recipient of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts Outstanding Teacher Award and teaches courses on writing and literacy. In her teaching, she guides students to understand the social outcomes and possibilities of writing while honoring the linguistic diversity of writers in and outside of the classroom. She incorporates a service-learning component into her course where students work with community organizations to plan and facilitate language or literacy projects. In these settings, students are challenged to see how the theories they learn in class connect to their experiences working with community writers. One student shared that “engaging in complex discussion with peers about the text and our service learning experiences shifted the traditional role of a lecture hall into a dynamic space that encouraged new theories and strategies.” During her time as director of the Writing Program, Lorimer Leonard mentored graduate students who teach across disciplines. One former trainee noted that Lorimer Leonard’s work “embodies how teachers are always themselves students,” and that she facilitated spaces for sharing and developing innovative pedagogical practices for teaching writing across UMass.

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.”

Torrey Trust, associate professor, education

Torrey Trust is a past recipient of the College of Education Outstanding Teacher Award and teaches courses with and about instructional technologies, using student-centered approaches that allow for students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways. In her statement, she notes her goal is to “empower students to become leaders and advocates who are an integral part of the global education community.” In this way, Trust has worked with students to develop open-educational resources, including eBooks, massive online open courses, and social media tools that have been shared with educators worldwide as part of her courses. She also adopts an ungrading approach in her classes that relies on student self reflection to shift focus from grades to learning, which one student noted “encourages students to challenge themselves to grow as learners.” Another student shared, “because I graded myself in Professor Trust’s courses, I was able to take risks when designing my learning projects….As such, I was able to expand my learning and try new things in Professor Trust’s courses, which enabled me to create projects I could be proud of.”

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.”

Porntip Israsena Twishime, communication

Porntip Israsena Twishime is a doctoral student in communication and has taught introductory and upper-level courses. Her teaching centers on the power of stories and storytelling in both unpacking dominant narratives around race, class, gender and sexuality and creating space to imagine more just futures. She approaches her students as “fellow intellectuals who bring various experiences, histories, perspectives, and motivations to the classroom.” In this way, she centers collaborative learning that invites students to share their experiences and take responsibility for each other’s learning. As one student shared, “She knew that to truly understand the concepts she wanted us to learn from, we needed to learn from others, whether it be her or the other students.” In particular, many students noted that in her upper-level seminar, Stories of Race, Twishime created productive and safe opportunities for students to learn from one another in discussions but also in one-on-one conversations. As one student shared, “These productive conversations about an often uncomfortable and complex topic helped me better understand my peers, myself and the world around me.”