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UT Regents Honor 3 UTEP Faculty

Last Updated on August 28, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published August 28, 2017

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

The University of Texas System Board of Regents recently recognized three UTEP faculty members for their exceptional work in higher education. The trio credited their achievements to a simple recipe of respect, ingenuity, curiosity and involvement.

UTEP recipients
The University of Texas System Board of Regents recognized three UTEP faculty members Aug. 23, 2017, in Austin for outstanding teaching. Pictured from left are Paul L. Foster, chair of the UT System Board of Regents; Ann Branan Horak, Ph.D.; Song An, Ph.D.; Isabel Baca, Ph.D.; and UTEP President Diana Natalicio. Photo: Beverly Barrett / UTEP Communications

Song An, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics education; Isabel Baca, Ph.D., associate professor of English; and Ann Branan Horak, Ph.D., associate professor of practice for religious studies and women and gender studies, were among the 56 recipients of the 2017 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards. The honorees from the system’s 14 academic and health institutions were saluted during an Aug. 23 ceremony in Austin. Each recipient received $25,000.

An, Baca, and Horak consider themselves catalysts who guide students along their academic journeys in ways that are fun and informative. Their tactics include service learning, where students share what they learn with the community. It could be dressing in costumes to celebrate the world’s religions at an elementary school; helping prepare promotional materials for nonprofit agencies; or creating improvised musical instruments to promote innovative techniques to teach math among area schoolchildren.

Carol Parker, J.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, congratulated the trio for their dedication to student success and UTEP’s access and excellence mission.

“The University is very proud of this latest group of UTEP educators to be recognized,” Provost Parker said. “Faculty members are the lifeblood of any institution of higher learning. They dedicate themselves to advance the University’s academic mission, and raise the bar for their students and their peers. We thank the Board of Regents for continuing this program that honors the great work being done by educators throughout the UT System.”

The trio took different paths to get to UTEP, but each route helped them develop into outstanding teachers that have benefited the University and its students.

Piano Man

Song An grew up in Nanjing, China, a city of more than 8 million people about 186 miles northwest of Shanghai. Music was a big part of his life growing up. He played the saxophone through secondary school, but switched to piano engineering as an undergraduate at the Nanjing Arts Institution. That is where he discovered the math-music connection.

An is a pioneer in morphing music-themed activities into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning resources. He preaches how music and motion may be used to teach math in elementary schools, and looks for interdisciplinary collaborators to develop and implement innovative curricula.

“I keep looking for fun stuff in everyday life as my teaching resources,” said An, who as an undergraduate repeatedly took apart a piano with more than 8,000 individual parts and put it back together before successfully tuning its 220 unique strings.

He earned his bachelor’s in musicology in 2007 and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction (math education) from Texas A&M five years later. UTEP hired him in 2012.

The Facilitator

Isabel Baca is a service-learning advocate who believes that students learn better and learn more in “real-world” settings because they get to practice their craft in different situations that will help them as students and later as professionals.

The El Paso native added that she also assigns individual and team coursework that will help students learn about trust, respect, negotiation, conflict resolution and responsibility.

“I consider myself a facilitator of learning because I help students take responsibility for their own learning, become self-learners, and gain a love for learning,” said Baca, who has taught at UTEP since 2004.

She keeps up to date with best practices by attending and presenting at national professional conferences, where she continues to build a network of colleagues and research collaborators.

Baca earned her undergraduate degree in English/creative writing, and her master’s in professional writing with an education track, from UTEP in 1987 and 1989, respectively. She received her doctorate from New Mexico State University in rhetoric and professional communication in 2000.

The Good Student

Since elementary school, Ann Horak said she was drawn to teaching. Her interest only intensified as she matured. Today she still gets excited before each class.

Horak, who started to teach at UTEP in 1999, loves to interact with students and to provide a forum for them to interact with each other, especially when it helps students get the confidence to share their thoughts about religious and gender issues. She uses fun and respect to create a positive classroom atmosphere that encourages lively student discussions that spawn learning.

She said she hoped her courses lead others to become lifelong learners. Horak said reading, talking to others, and learning about the issues she teaches help her maintain a teacher’s edge.

“You have to be a good student to be a good teacher,” said Horak, who earned her bachelor’s in English literature from UT Austin in 1990, and her master’s and doctorate in English from Rutgers University in 1992 and 2001, respectively.

The inclusion of An, Baca and Horak mean that 68 UTEP faculty have been recognized by the Regents since the first awards were presented in 2009. The program is among the nation’s largest to honor exceptional instruction in the university classroom.