The College of Arts & Sciences is pleased to announce that the recipients of the 2012-13 A&S Outstanding Teaching Awards are Drs. Christia Brown (psychology), Brenna Byrd (MCLLC), Yanira Paz (Hispanic Studies), and Bradley Plaster (physics & astronomy).
Dr. Christia Brown has been in the psychology department since 2007 and is affiliated with the Children at Risk Research Cluster, Gender and Women’s Studies, and the UK Center for Poverty Research. She exemplifies teaching excellence. She creates an innovative learning environment in every classroom she enters, whether through engagement activities in her large lecture courses or debates in her smaller seminars. One of her students stated, “This is the best class and professor I have ever had at UK.” Outside the classroom she is a model of effective mentorship to local high school students, advanced undergraduate students, and graduate students. As one of her students wrote, “Dr. Christia Brown has been the most influential individual that I have had in my academic career.” Her involvement in a global consortium to advance early childhood education in places such as Indonesia shows that Dr. Brown’s teaching excellence knows no borders.
Dr. Brenna Byrd has been a lecturer in MCLLC since the fall of 2010. She teaches multiple German language courses, graduate language pedagogy seminars, and a new department-wide introductory seminar in the study of languages. As director of the Beginning Language program, she is responsible for the first two years of the undergraduate curriculum and in this capacity mentors TAs thoughtfully and inspiringly. Byrd’s passion and enthusiasm for German language and culture have been described as “contagious”. She has worked tirelessly to revamp the German 101-201 sequence so that students better develop communicative and cultural competence. Her innovations include class blogs and a unit on the Berlin wall in which students discussed their experiences after remaining on one side of an imaginary wall dividing Lexington for a 24 hour period. One colleague stated that “Dr. Byrd’s innovations and willingness to experiment in the area of curriculum and the teaching of culture has inspired many of us in the division.” Her dedication to her students is impressive.
Dr. Yanira Paz has been a faculty member in Hispanic Studies since 2001. She believes that education should be a creative and participatory process that inspires a passion for learning in students. Comments from her students indicate that she meets this goal, e.g., “This wonderful professor is truly an inspiration.” Dr. Paz is able to establish the sorts of connections with students that facilitate deep learning: “Dr. Paz is extremely knowledgeable about the subject she teaches. However, she evokes a humble intelligence that creates between herself and her students a bond of trust and mutual appreciation.” Paz succeeds in inspiring students through her knowledge of linguistics and of second-language acquisition in part because she relates these topics to real people, for example, by studying immigration patterns in Kentucky with her students. She is truly an outstanding teacher. Dr. Paz is also the Director of Elementary Language Instruction in Hispanic Studies, and the passion and astuteness with which she supervises TAs makes her a true educator of educators.
Dr. Bradley Plaster has been a member of the physics and astronomy department since 2007. He engages students deeply at all levels and encourages them to excel in their scientific studies. Students consistently praise his articulate, clear, and effective classes as well as his energetic, engaging style. His passion for teaching extends from an introductory physics course for non-science majors and an introductory physics course for science majors through a graduate course in advanced electromagnetic theory that is a key component of the physics graduate curriculum. Dr. Plaster’s influence extends outside of the classroom through his mentoring of students in his research lab. Encouraging active participation in the research process, Brad helps students develop independence and a sense of ownership of their work. As one student wrote, "By helping me to believe in myself, Dr. Plaster has given me the self-confidence I need to succeed in life. What more could one ask from their teacher?"