Excellence in Teaching is bestowed by the Office of the Chancellor and the Teaching Council of the Faculty Senate to honor outstanding work in the classroom.
A longtime teacher and lawyer, Dean Rivkin, Distinguished Professor of Law, is known for his innovative, insightful, and intellectually stimulating teaching techniques. Last year, the College of Law honored him with its highest commendation, the Harold Warner Outstanding Teacher Award. But Rivkin’s concern for students’ professional development continues outside the classroom. He has been the guiding force in developing and teaching courses in environmental law and child and family law, efforts that have expanded the breadth and depth of the college’s curriculum. He has served as faculty advisor for the Environmental Law Organization and the Tennessee Association of Public Interest Law. Rivkin works closely with students who want to pursue public interest law opportunities and has helped further the success of the college’s student advocacy program as faculty advisor to the very successful UT Environmental Law Moot Court Team.
Rapinder Sawhney, professor of industrial and systems engineering, was awarded last year’s Excellence in Academic Outreach award for his work in the local community. This year’s award proves that he maintains the same level of engagement with his students. Students say he’s a dynamic teacher who demonstrates his commitment to their future success by taking them on industrial visits, incorporating real-life examples into their lessons, and keeping them involved through games and projects. Because Sawhney is so involved in creating ties between the community and the university—in 2015, he was appointed to the Mayor’s Council on Disability Initiatives—he is a natural at encouraging students to understand how their engineering skills can be used to enhance society. One student observed, “The most important lesson he has taught is what our passion must be—to be of service to mankind.”
Elizabeth Shussler, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, is described by her students as excited, enthusiastic, and committed to their success. “Beth must engage students at all levels, and she is wildly successful,” a colleague said. She finds ways to “really engage her students in learning how to do science, rather than just memorizing what science has already learned.” Schussler has been a pioneer in using active learning techniques—everything from clickers and Learning Catalytics to small-group discussions—to keep students engaged during large science lectures. She serves as director of teaching and learning for the Division of Biology and has been instrumental in improving biology courses at UT. She received the 2016 UT Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award and the 2012 College of Arts and Sciences Junior Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award.
As a teacher of writing and creative writing, Erin Smith, a senior lecturer in English, sees her role as showing students “how to effectively communicate in a world where the strength and tone of our language define so much about who we are professionally, politically, and personally.” She ensures that her classes include open discussion and debate, encouraging students to assume authority over their own ideas while subtly pushing them to make new discoveries. In her public writing classes, Smith not only teaches the skills her students need to develop and implement a fundraising campaign but also has them put these skills to use. Since 2013, her public writing students have raised over $100,000 for local nonprofits. As her nominator put it, Smith “sparks a light in students assisting their communities with the tools they learn from her course.”