Since 1961, the University of Massachusetts has presented the Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA) to instructors who demonstrate exemplary teaching at the highest institutional level. This campus-wide honor is the only student-initiated award on campus.
This year’s review committees, comprised of former DTA winners, noted particularly how difficult their task was given the excellence of the nominees and how exceptional these award winners are.
Anne Broadbridge, professor, department of history
Professor Anne Broadbridge has been a UMass faculty member for 19 years, teaching large general education courses focused on the history of the Middle East, and smaller seminars within the history department. She describes her teaching philosophy as an approach that encourages students to investigate their own minds, thoughts, habits and biases, and the minds and actions of others, in order to understand the diversity of experience.
In her history courses centered on the Middle East and Islam, Broadbridge’s goal is to help her students gently challenge common stereotypes they may hold in favor of developing more nuanced understandings and her students note that she teaches them the skills to share their own thoughts and listen to other’s points of view.
As one student commented, “She creates a learning environment that not only prevents students from shying away, but allows them the courage to truly speak up and ask the questions they want to ask.”
Ramesh Sitaraman, professor, College of Information and Computer Sciences
Since arriving at UMass Amherst in 1993, Professor Sitaraman has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in algorithms and is the founding director of the informatics program in the College of Information and Computer Sciences. Demonstrating to his students a love for his discipline, Sitaraman enriches his lectures with interesting anecdotes, offers explanations in a slow and deliberate way and always gives time for students to ask questions during and after class.
One student remarked, “Professor Sitaraman’s massive strength is his pace; he is a master of the art of going at a speed that caters to everyone, and yet covers the entirety of the material he wishes to cover.”
A colleague noted that Sitaraman’s active learning approach to teaching algorithms helps students apply what they learn in real-world contexts and his educational impact on undergraduate and graduate students is “spectacular and without parallel.”
Leah Wing, senior lecturer II of legal studies, department of political science
Since 2002, Leah Wing has been teaching undergraduate courses in the department of political science focused on environmental justice, the Irish peace process, and racial conflict, meditation, and social justice.
By asking students to apply critical race legal theory to the study of conflict, Wing seeks to help students examine how issues of injustice can be addressed or exacerbated by conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Her students note how she fosters inclusive teaching through respectful debates and discussions on sensitive and complex topics and uses a healthy mix of open forum, personal reflection and mixed media in any given class period.
As one student commented, “The manner in which she utilizes her unusual class schedule is still a marvel to me, and the time seems to fly by.”
Students also acknowledge Wing’s unwavering commitment towards helping them succeed in class and building their overall confidence both inside and outside of the classroom.
Tilman Wolf, senior vice provost for academic affairs and professor, department of electrical and computer engineering
Tilman Wolf has been a faculty member in the department of electrical and computer engineering since 2002, teaching introductory engineering courses, undergraduate courses in computer systems and data structures and graduate courses in computer networking.
Realizing that many introductory engineering courses may be especially challenging to students who do not have prior preparation, Wolf sought to change his two intro courses. He did so by finding a balance between the big-picture context and technical information and connecting the topics to a real-world device or structure his students already knew; an approach very much appreciated by his students.
One undergraduate commented that on the first day of class she discovered that nearly all of the students had taken apart a computer or had robotics experience, and she realized she had done neither. She remarked, “Professor Wolf acknowledged the experience that other students had, but made a note to say that the concepts he would be teaching would be tailored to accommodate students like me without a background....and after saying it, he stuck to it.”
Kelly Giles, graduate student, department of sociology
Kelly Giles is a doctoral student in the department of sociology, whose research and teaching interests focus on race, class, and gender.
As an instructor teaching introductory sociology courses and first-year seminars, Giles acknowledged that her two primary goals in the classroom are to help students use their “sociological imagination” by questioning how their actions and interactions impact society and to develop students’ critical thinking skills that give them permission to challenge ideas. These goals are essential for any learner, but are important for freshman in particular.
Her students appreciate Giles’ way of creating an engaging and interactive space for learning. As one student shared, “Since taking Ms. Giles’ class, the students and myself will always understand the importance in questioning even the most familiar concepts while reexamining how something might cause social injustices in the world, and how our identity might be a problem. Ultimately, this has forever reshaped how we perceive ourselves in society.”
Andrea Wilson, graduate student, department of philosophy
Andrea Wilson is a doctoral student in the department of philosophy, whose areas of specialization include ethics, social and political philosophy.
Wilson designs her philosophy courses in way that makes the material relevant to her students’ lives and how they shape their identities. Her goals for her courses reflect a desire for students to leave class with the ability to understand the perspectives and motivations of those with whom they disagree, to express their own beliefs in a productive way and to revise their beliefs if they find they have a good reason to do so.
To accomplish these goals, Wilson creates a classroom environment that emphasizes respect, compassion and flexibility.
As one of her students writes, “She does an excellent job of allowing students to feel as if their voices and opinions are valid and structures her classroom in a way that supports student discourse and classroom discussion.”