UNC Charlotte continues its long-standing tradition of honoring exceptional teachers who have demonstrated excellence in motivating and mentoring students to achieve in the classroom, in the community and in future careers.
Anabel Aliaga-Buchenau and Kathryn Asala are the 2021 recipients of the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence and the UNC Charlotte Award for Teaching Excellence, respectively. They were honored during a ceremony Friday, Aug. 27, along with the other finalists: Erin Miller, associate professor, Reading and Elementary Education; Vaughn Schmutz, associate professor, Sociology; Mitch Eisner, clinical assistant professor, Reading and Elementary Education; and Tonya Wertz-Orbaugh, senior lecturer, Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies.
“Like those who have been honored before them, the finalists share some common characteristics. No matter what discipline they teach, they find new and inspiring methods to spark their students’ desire to learn and to grow. And they are experts at building connections — with their students, with other disciplines, with practical applications, and with our greater community,” said Provost Joan Lorden, as she introduced the six finalists.
The Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence, first presented in 1968, is given to a full-time, tenured faculty member with at least seven years of service to UNC Charlotte. Aliaga-Buchenau is recognized as a master teacher in the Department of Languages and Culture Studies. To make the curriculum more relevant to students and their future employers, she restructured the degree program to include career-oriented courses in translating, business and engineering, and added humanities-based offerings in youth literature and contemporary literature and culture.
Michèle Bissière, chair of the Department of Languages and Culture Studies, said, “She shines in the classroom and always receives near perfect evaluations that are well above the department mean. Students praise her infectious enthusiasm for the material, her positive and compassionate attitude, her ability to relate to students from different backgrounds and at different levels of proficiency, and her availability outside class.”
Aliaga-Buchenau led the development of undergraduate and graduate certificates in Translating, as well as certificates in Business German and German for Engineering. She had an important role in development of the minors in Chinese and Arabic Studies and the creation of the minor in Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights.
“The students are what interest me,” Aliaga-Buchenau said. “I am fascinated to see what happens when they learn a language, in this case German, and more importantly, how they grow and change when they come in contact with another culture.”
Under her leadership, the number of German majors has more than quadrupled, an achievement that drew national attention, with The Chronicle of Higher Education ranking the program in spring 2019 as No. 2 in the United States and No. 1 in North Carolina for the number of graduates.
The University and its students benefit from excellent teaching of those with a range of titles like lecturer, clinical professor and teaching professor. Asala is the winner of the 2021 UNC Charlotte Teaching Excellence Award, which honors faculty members who have at least five years of teaching experience at UNC Charlotte.
Asala is a teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry who takes a scholarly approach to her teaching and advocates for research-based learning processes that have helped transform the culture of teaching STEM courses at UNC Charlotte. She envisioned a community of practice for STEM faculty and she sought partners to develop the Transforming STEM Teaching and Learning Academy. This has led to broader and deeper adoption of these student-centered learning methods across the University.
“Dr. Asala is widely known for her deep dedication to students; her pioneering, successful implementation of evidence-based practices in the classroom; and her effectiveness in collaborating with administrators and educators across many disciplines,” said Chemistry Department Chair Bernadette Donovan-Merkert.
As a Faculty Fellow in the UNC Charlotte Office of Undergraduate Education, Asala is a proponent of student-centered pedagogies such as Peer-Led Team Learning and Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. She developed a concept called TASL — or Team Approach to Successful Learning — to deepen student learning.
“I view myself as a facilitator of learning with classroom time being spent on maximizing understanding by actively engaging the students in developing concepts and problem-solving skills through well-designed activities and providing real-time feedback of their learning,” Asala said. “I am not satisfied as an educator until I have attempted to effectively help each individual student meet the learning objectives of the course.”
Asala received a grant from the UNC Charlotte Office of Assessment to evaluate student performance in the course Chemistry 1252, and she is currently directing a grant from the UNC System Office to assess student learning in introductory chemistry courses. She is working with the Office of Undergraduate Education on the Student Experience Project to improve student success and to close the achievement gap for students from underrepresented groups