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UTSA professors
UTSA professors Chunjiang Qian and Richard Gambitta
(Photo by Mark McClendon)

UTSA professors receive Outstanding Teaching Awards from UT System regents

By Christi Fish and Kris Rodriguez
Public Affairs Specialists

(Aug. 20, 2009)--UTSA professors Richard Gambitta and Chunjiang Qian received Outstanding Teaching Awards from the University of Texas System (UT) Board of Regents at an awards ceremony and dinner last night in Austin. The inaugural awards, which were presented to 73 faculty members this year from across the UT System, celebrated the highest quality of undergraduate teaching and were accompanied by monetary stipends totaling $2 million. As tenured faculty, Gambitta and Qian will receive $30,000 each.

"Clearly, we have a mandate to provide an exceptional education for our students, but our universities also play a critical role in ensuring the economic vitality of Texas. We believe these efforts will foster success in the areas of pedagogy and research, and that they will significantly enhance the educational experience for our students and sharpen the competitive edge of our science and technology activities," said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., UT System chancellor.

Established by the UT Board of Regents in August 2008, the Outstanding Teaching Awards program fosters innovative approaches to teaching, research and commercialization endeavors at the 15 UT System institutions. Candidates for this year's inaugural teaching awards were nominated at the campus level then evaluated on several criteria including student and peer evaluations, teaching portfolios, letters of recommendation and student learning outcomes.

Richard Gambitta, associate professor of political science and director of the UTSA Institute for Law and Public Affairs, has an educational career spanning more than 30 years at UTSA. Throughout his career, he has taught politics, constitutional law, civil liberties and public administration. He also has chaired the UTSA Department of Political Science and Geography and its master of public administration program. Currently, Gambitta is dually appointed in the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts and the Honors College.

With UTSA President Ricardo Romo, Gambitta co-founded the UTSA Institute for Law and Public Affairs and designed its curricular programs, headed the legal studies minor, and has been a stalwart teacher in the annual UTSA Summer Law School Preparation Academy, which has notably increased the number of UTSA students who attend law school. In 2004, Gambitta and State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon co-founded the UTSA Legislative Scholars Program, which allows students to earn up to $10,000 per legislative session by working as legislative assistants in the Texas House of Representatives.

"Words cannot express how deeply I feel honored in winning this inaugural, prestigious award bestowed by the UT Board of Regents," said Gambitta. "The award symbolizes the significant commitment of the UT System and UTSA to special, high-quality professorial teaching. For decades, I have attempted to challenge, motivate and illuminate, endeavoring to instill a morality of aspiration, dedication and excellence in our students so that they may meet more wisely and compassionately the significant, complex challenges of our communities and world."

The UT Regents Outstanding Teaching Award is Gambitta's 11th major teaching award since his career began in 1978.

Associate Professor Chunjiang Qian joined the UTSA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2001 after receiving his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. He soon became a favorite teacher among UTSA's undergraduate engineering students.

Early in his teaching career, Qian learned that students are most apt to retain information when it is presented practically, so he makes a point to include hands-on experiments in his classroom lectures. Additionally, he encourages his undergraduates to pursue research opportunities in engineering. Since 2001, he has published eight papers with undergraduate co-authors.

Qian frequently uses technology in the classroom. Since 2002, he has integrated WebCT (World Wide Web Course Tools, WebCT Inc.) in his teaching toolkit. The online portal lets Qian upload his class notes handouts, homework and solutions for students. Additionally, it allows students to view their class schedules, check their grades and share questions or problems with classmates and Qian. In 2005, Qian began using a Tablet PC in the classroom. The device helps him deliver vivid and colorful notes in manageable increments.

Qian's teaching has had a profound effect on his students. Nickolas Grady, a former student who is now a software engineer with Boeing Integrated Defense Systems said, "I would like to say I have the ability to grasp everything before me, but in fact I certainly would not have picked the field of controls had it not been for Dr. Qian's ability to make the difficult seem accessible to me."

Mauli Agrawal, dean of the UTSA College of Engineering, said, "It is well known in the College of Engineering that Dr. Qian is an outstanding teacher. Students talk about it in the hallways and so do the faculty. His student teaching evaluations are always very high -- high enough that I must admit I checked to see if they were driven by grade inflation. I was wrong! He is a fair grader, in fact tough at times, but students still love his teaching."

The University of Texas System is one of the nation's largest higher education systems, with nine academic campuses and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $11.5 billion (FY 2009) including $2.5 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 194,000 in the 2007 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state's undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state's health-care professionals annually. With more than 81,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

The University of Texas at San Antonio is one of the fastest growing higher education institutions in Texas and the second largest of nine academic universities and six health institutions in the UT System. As a multicultural institution of access and excellence, UTSA aims to be a premier public research university providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment. UTSA serves more than 28,400 students in 64 bachelor's, 47 master's and 21 doctoral degree programs in the colleges of Architecture, Business, Education and Human Development, Engineering, Honors, Liberal and Fine Arts, Public Policy, Sciences and Graduate School. Founded in 1969, UTSA is an intellectual and creative resource center and a socioeconomic development catalyst for Texas and beyond.

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