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Professor Carmen Urioste-Azcorra with study abroad students

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences awards recognize exceptional ASU faculty members

By

Amanda Stoneman

As the academic year comes to a close, Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recognizes exceptional faculty members who have gone above and beyond to help the next generation of scholars learn, excel and flourish in their respective fields. 

The Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award was established in memory of Zebulon Pearce, who graduated from Territorial Normal School at Tempe (now Arizona State University) with teacher’s credentials in 1899. These awards honor teaching excellence within the college.

For spring 2017, the college has named three winners based on their dedication to students and substantial contributions to the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.

• Sara Brownell, assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences
• Michael Smith, professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change
• Carmen Urioste-Azcorra, professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures

In addition, the college also honored Charles Ripley, lecturer in the School of Politics and Global Studies, with the Liberal Arts and Sciences Outstanding Lecturer Award for 2017.

Meet this year’s awardees:

Sara Brownell 

Brownell has been an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences since January 2014. She teaches a diverse range of courses in both biology and education: from first-year success courses for incoming students to upper-level animal physiology and graduate seminars on biology education research. She said her research overlaps with her teaching because it focuses broadly on how to improve undergraduate biology education, which has direct implications for the classroom.

“It is such a privilege to work at an institution where the institution’s mission of inclusiveness is so aligned with my own personal philosophy of teaching,” Brownell said. “My strength as an instructor is not defined by any one approach, but rather a persistent and genuine desire to provide the highest quality instruction possible in order to benefit all students.”

Brownell believes scholarly teaching that is evidence-based, student-centered and attentive to inequities in the classroom can best promote student learning, encourage students to apply what they learn to their own lives and result in inclusive excellence. Her teaching philosophy integrates research to help students “think like a scientist” in a highly interactive environment — even in a large lecture hall.

“Data says students learn better in student-centered active learning classes. That seems to be a given now, but I don’t think anyone takes this to heart to the extent that Sara does, and I don’t think anyone is as successful as she is at making large classes student-centered and active,” said Bertram Jacobs, director of the School of Life Sciences.

Brownell said she limits the amount of time she spends talking at students to allow for ample student participation and engagement. Her student-centered activities include drawing concept maps, answering open-ended questions or getting students to debate and think deeply about biology. She also takes a very personal approach to teaching and tries to get to know her students as people. She said she’ll do everything in her power to help her students succeed.

“Sara provided the perfect balance of support and encouragement with high expectations, which helped me succeed beyond what I imagined was possible,” said Elizabeth Barnes, doctoral candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. “She fundamentally changed the trajectory of my career by believing in my abilities and providing the guidance I needed to be successful.”

Michael Smith

Since 2005, Smith has been a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. He also serves as the associate director of graduate studies for the school and the director of the Teotihuacan Research Lab. Smith’s teaching focuses on archaeology, comparative urbanism and archaeological method/theory. He has designed and developed several undergraduate and graduate courses to include neglected topics, his own fieldwork experience and new perspectives on archaeological theory.

“Michael has been a teaching innovator,” said Kaye E. Reed, President’s Professor and director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “He stimulates students to become active participants in their own learning, has a contagious enthusiasm, tries to include various perspectives on learning and has demonstrated great teaching at all levels — especially integrating these levels in his lab.”

Smith said he has always made an effort to engage undergraduates in research, including positions on his field work project in Mexico and in his lab. He typically has around 10 undergraduates working for him at a time. Several students have written honors theses from projects in Smith’s lab, and a number have collaborated as co-authors on journal articles.

“I consider the mentoring of undergraduate students the most successful and satisfying aspect of my teaching,” Smith said. “I enjoy seeing them move from simple clerical tasks to more sophisticated research activities, and finally to research projects of their own. I can easily recall the students I worked with 30 years ago as a starting assistant professor, and I am still in touch with many former mentees.”

Smith’s mentorship involves creatively intermingling undergraduate and graduate students in his lab. As they work on research projects together, they interact in such a way that enables the graduate students to become mentors to the undergraduates. In 2014, Smith won the ASU Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award based on the diversity of students working at different levels within his lab.

“Smith has improved my undergraduate experience by teaching me not only how to conduct good research but how to be a successful and well-rounded academic,” said Alexandra Norwood, a double major in anthropology and geological sciences “He has pushed me to do better work and create the best possible scholarship.” 

Carmen Urioste-Azcorra 

Urioste-Azcorra has been a professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures since 2010. She has taught a range of in-person and online undergraduate and graduate courses on Spanish language, culture, literature and civilization. She was a major force in promoting the establishment of an online bachelor’s degree program in Spanish. The program launched in fall 2012, and now serves more than 1,500 students per year. In fall 2016, Urioste-Azcorra became the director of the entire program.

“I have been working on remodeling all lower- and upper-division language classes as well as supervising all online instructors,” Urioste-Azcorra said. “Online classes were made more student-driven, and in addition to traditional books, a series of apps were incorporated that will help students with the learning of Spanish.”

The main components of Urioste-Azcorra’s teaching philosophy are the integration of teaching and research and the meaningful incorporation of modern technologies within the frame of digital humanities. This teaching approach enable students to benefit from the professor’s research activities as the new technologies help maintain a high quality of teaching under increasing enrollments.

“It is at the graduate level where my efforts to integrate teaching, research and technology are most apparent,” Urioste-Azcorra said. “I have recognized the importance of educating our graduate students for the 21st century.”

For about seven years, Urioste-Azcorra has served as the Spanish division graduate program director. She encourages graduate students to take digital humanities classes, incorporate their knowledge as they teach undergraduate classes and conduct research on digital humanities. Her students have worked with digitized turn-of-the-century journals and created maps, visualizations and webpages. 

“I enjoy professor Urioste-Azcorra’s teaching style because she not only knows how to make the texts we work with more accessible, but she’s also able to challenge and push her students to go beyond what is given to them: to analyze, think critically and make connections,” said Jennifer E. Byron, a doctorate candidate of Spanish cultural studies in the School of International Letters and Cultures. “She is someone whom I admire greatly as an educator … and I hope one day to emulate her.” 

Charles Ripley 

Since 2012, Ripley has been a lecturer in the School of Politics and Global Studies. He teaches lower- and upper-division courses in the political science and global studies programs as well as methods and content-specific ones. He began his teaching career in the war-torn country of Nicaragua, which has helped him address the needs of ASU’s diverse student body, including veterans and military personnel.  

“This experience helped me understand diverse and underrepresented student populations, as well as those adversely affected by war. I quickly learned the importance of developing both an effective and inclusive teaching philosophy,” Ripley said. “For the last five years, I have developed new courses, employed innovative teaching techniques, worked with our extensive veteran population, and tried my best to educate and retain our underrepresented student populations.”

Ripley has created several courses for the online venue and students’ professional development. He focuses on career skills not found in conventional academic courses, such as resume building and cover letter writing. Ripley also incorporates a wide range of literature and activities to meet the unique needs of veterans who experience challenges with professional development. Drawing on his experience working in trauma and recovery, he also assists students who have experienced traumatic events. 

“Ripley is an excellent and enthusiastic teacher and colleague. Our students, of course, are the ultimate beneficiaries. They find him approachable and helpful as they map their career options,” said Richard Herrera, associate director of the School of Politics and Global Studies. “Integral to Dr. Ripley’s approach to teaching is student responsibility both in and out of the classroom. He emphasizes the importance of full engagement by students in order to succeed in his courses and as they pursue careers.”

Ripley regularly mentors students of both majors and helps introduce them to the world of research. Currently, he is working with five students on their honors theses. Many of his students have gone on to earn prestigious awards, such as the Boren Scholarship and the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship. In addition, Ripley has worked individually with English language learners and non-traditional students to help them improve their basic and advanced reading and writing skills. 

“Ripley has not only given me an unparalleled drive to understand different research and theories, but has pushed me to understand that I have the capability to implement what I have learned in the real world and as a career,” said Destinee Sior, a global studies major. “He is one is one of the most influential professors I have ever had the chance of meeting.”

Award recipients will be honored at convocation ceremonies for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be held at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 9 at Wells Fargo Arena.