Rodrigo Zamith and Ofer Sharone Win 2020 SBS Outstanding Teaching Awards
Rodrigo Zamith, assistant professor of journalism and Ofer Sharone, associate professor of sociology, have been awarded this year’s UMass Amherst College of Social & Behavioral Sciences (SBS) Outstanding Teaching Award. This award celebrates exceptional teaching, mentoring, and curriculum development efforts, and their impact on students.
“At a time when we are being called upon to think creatively about the classroom experience, educators like Rodrigo and Ofer exemplify the innovative and student-first approach that our college stands for,” said John Hird, Dean of SBS. "They have made extraordinary contributions to their students and our campus, and we’re proud to support their efforts,” he added.
Fostering a Spirit of Experimentation
Since arriving at UMass Amherst in 2015, Rodrigo Zamith has been nominated for the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award twice and selected for the Lilly Fellowship Program for Teaching Excellence. Zamith’s teaching methods vary from the traditional lecture and discussion model by activating students to exchange ideas through team-based, hands-on exercises, and Oxford-style debates.
“I'm lucky to have patient students who put up with my in-class experiments, colleagues who inspire me on a daily basis with their own innovation, and an institutional support system that truly values effective pedagogy,” said Zamith.
His signature course is Data-Driven Storytelling (DDS) which provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to begin gathering, analyzing, and visualizing interactive data-driven stories. While most Journalism classes are restricted to majors, the class attracts students from computer science and other disciplines. Teaching the course is challenging because of its technical nature, students’ fear of math and technology, and the wide range of abilities found among class participants.
"I'm lucky to have patient students who put up with my in-class experiments and colleagues who inspire me on a daily basis with their own innovation"
“I always felt like he had my back, no matter how difficult the material which was very, very new to me,” said one student who took the class. Several students expressed gratitude for Zamith’s “above and beyond” attitude and the time he invests in preparing for both classes and one-on-one meetings. “The amount of time he spends making top-shelf educational videos is apparent and translates exceedingly well into facilitating a well-informed class,” said another student in the class.
In addition to his work in the classroom, Zamith has excelled in supporting students outside of the classroom. He has advised students working on independent studies related to his research and worked with undergraduate research assistants, one of whom was named the recipient of a 2017 Dean’s Research Award.
"I'm honored to receive this award because it shows that I am learning and progressing, and it reinforces my commitment to my students and the Student First philosophy of the journalism department," said Zamith upon receiving the award.
Helping Students Navigate New Perspectives
Over the past three years, Ofer Sharone has taught nine classes for the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Policy, ranging from a large introductory course with 100-150 students to smaller upper-division courses in Sociology. Drawing on his research expertise, he has also developed two new courses — "Sociology of Getting a Job" and "Sociology of Aspirations: What Do I Really Want to Do When I Grow Up?," the latter of which he designed as a Lilly Fellow for Teaching Excellence (2018-19).
Students show consistent and deep appreciation for their experiences in Sharone’s courses especially in the newly designed "Sociology of Aspirations" describing them as “life-transforming” and “a true privilege.”
“I was always aware that other people had different life stories and things going on but those stories were never very concrete to me until hearing my classmates discuss them,” said one student in the class. “The amount of perspective gained from taking this course with Ofer is beyond anything I have experienced and has very tangible use as I move on with my life,” expressed another student.
Reflecting on his own experience as a first-generation college student at a large public university, Sharone says he has seen “first-hand the potential of well-taught college courses to change lives and open up entirely new ways of thinking and understanding.”
“Creating these kinds of experiences for students was at the heart of why I wanted I wanted to become a professor,” he added.
Graduate students too speak of the positive impact Sharone has had on their experiences at UMass. One former student described him as an “indispensable resource for my survival and flourishing” adding that Sharone was an exceptional mentor and advisor through both the low and high points of their Ph.D. program. “Knowing first-hand how he both teaches, and mentors students, I cannot imagine a more deserving and suitable recipient for this award,” the student added.
Normally, Zamith and Sharone would be recognized for their achievements at the Faculty Honors Dinner and at the SBS Senior Celebration but these events will not take place in-person due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Zamith and Sharone will each will receive a commemorative plaque and an award of $1,000 as a recognition of their achievements.