The online magazine of the University of Texas System
Denise Paquette Boots kicks off each semester with a lecture on crime that is both gripping and personal. It’s not just for shock value. It’s how the assistant professor of criminology at The University of Texas at Dallas gets her students’ attention. And, it works.
A former Border Patrol agent and criminology researcher herself, Boots invites a slate of crime experts — among them a forensic psychologist, a prison warden, probation officers, a police chief, a district attorney, a judge and offenders in the Texas Youth Commission — to offer their experiences in the criminal justice system, usually to a packed lecture hall.
The speaking engagements are augmented by a healthy dose of documentaries and presentations that touch on religious intolerance, discrimination and innocence and justice issues. "I call it an active learning style," Boots said. "I try to pull the student into the class by weaving elements together and building on different themes."
"My first priorities as a teacher are to engage student interest on even the most complex criminological topics, to nurture critical thinking skills and to motivate students to perform at their personal best."
—Denise Paquette Boots, UT Dallas
By sharing her personal experiences and those of others on the front lines in the battle against crime, Boots hopes to deliver a lesson to her criminology students they will never forget: Violent crime touches most people at one point in their lives; and people touched by that crime are changed forever by it.
For her instructional efforts, Boots was one of 73 teachers from nine UT System academic institutions who were recipients of the inaugural Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards, which were announced Aug. 19.
The awards program, launched last year, provides $2 million in prize money to faculty members who demonstrate extraordinary performance in the classroom. Amounts range from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on the instructor’s status as tenured, tenure-track or contingency faculty.
"This program is all about promoting success in the classroom and enriching the educational experience for our students," said David B. Prior, the UT System's executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, whose office helped launch the program. "This not only enhances our standing on the higher education landscape, it puts us in a better position to attract the brightest students and best faculty around."
Candidates for the teaching awards were nominated at the campus level, then evaluated on several criteria, including student and peer evaluations; teaching portfolio (which includes pedagogical innovation and teaching objectives); and student learning outcomes.
"It was essential to be very rigorous in setting the highest standards for these teaching awards," Prior said, adding that the awardees were judged partly on how faculty members incorporated innovative concepts into their teaching.
"I see my responsibility in higher education as helping to create, foster, and facilitate critical, independent learners."
—Steven Varela, UT El Paso
That is precisely what helped Steven Varela, an English lecturer at The University of Texas at El Paso, get recognized for an award. In his classes, Varela has transformed the traditional research paper assignment into a multimedia experience that includes video and design.
"We still require the research, it’s just applied differently," Varela explained. Up to three students can participate in each project. "It's a very committed process — everyone has to pull their own weight or the project will collapse."
Ultimately, he added, the exercise will help students organize other projects in different subjects. "We want our students to be able to transfer these skills across all disciplines," Varela said.
Already, the assignments have, in effect, amounted to provocative mini-documentaries, and led to the creation of a spring film festival that allows students to show off their creations, Varela said.
The outstanding teaching awards program supplements several existing initiatives authorized by the Board of Regents that aim to enhance teaching quality and enrich the classroom experience for students.
— Matt Flores
On the evening of Wednesday, August 19, Chancellor Cigarroa and the UT System Regents hosted an event to further honor award recipients. The Chancellor, Regent Janiece Longoria and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs David Prior presented each outstanding teacher with a certificate and medallion to supplement their monetary awards and commemorate their invaluable contribution to higher education.
"One of the greatest rewards as an educator is providing students with the opportunities to tap into their strengths, acquire and create knowledge both inside and outside of the classroom."
"Students should be challenged, respected, and have the experience of being a valued part of the learning community."
"I hope my teaching says: 'This is what loving what you do looks like. Now go out and find what you love, what you are born to do. Follow your passion and we all benefit.'"
Charles Ramírez Berg
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