Class Acts: Two UTEP Faculty Receive Top Teaching Award
Last Updated on August 21, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published August 21, 2020
By Christina Rodriguez
For two faculty members at The University of Texas at El Paso, countless hours of research, planning, mentoring, teaching and learning culminated with a prestigious teaching award for their passion and dedication to their profession.
The University of Texas System Board of Regents honored Jessica Slade, Ph.D., assistant professor of instruction, teacher education; and Chuan (River) Xiao, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry, with one of the top teaching awards in Texas – The University of Texas System Board of Regents’ 2020 Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA). They are among 27 faculty members representing all 14 UT academic and health institutions to receive the award.
“We are extremely proud of Dr. Xiao and Dr. Slade and the impact they have on our students,” said John Wiebe, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at UTEP. “They are outstanding examples of the many champions of student success at UTEP – faculty who work every day to foster student development and help students pursue their highest aspirations.”
The ROTA was established in 2008 to recognize faculty for their extraordinary classroom performance and innovation. It stands as one of the nation’s largest awards programs that honors teachers in higher education and reinforces the Board of Regents' commitment to ensuring that UT institutions are places of intellectual exploration and discovery, educational excellence and unparalleled opportunity.
Slade received her bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. She felt compelled to follow her passion and pursue teaching to combine her love of the arts and young children. Eager to make an impact on young lives, she began her career teaching toddlers and preschoolers in schools with different pedagogical focuses.
Later, Slade attended UTEP, where she earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in early childhood education and a doctorate in teaching, learning and culture. Her ambition was to reach as many children as possible while continuing her doctoral work exploring early childhood teacher’s beliefs and their practices in the classroom. To do so, she switched her focus to teaching future educators at a college level who could then go out and touch the lives of countless young children across the globe. Since 2014, Slade has helped train undergraduate teacher candidates and master teachers in early childhood education at UTEP.
“My favorite part about teaching at UTEP is working with the students,” Slade said. “I have learned so much about my profession and myself through my interactions with them. I have found such an overwhelming sense of acceptance with my students. They have truly opened their minds to what I have to say, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunities to learn from them.”
Many important teachers and mentors Xiao encountered throughout his life all paved the way to his career as a teacher, researcher and scientist. Since high school, he knew he wanted to join the professoriate to follow in the footsteps of his parents who were both researchers, as well as a multitude of maternal relatives who were teachers. Xiao remains grateful for all the teachers and mentors who inspired him and wishes to pass their wisdom along to his own students.
Xiao has been a faculty member at UTEP since 2008. For more than 12 years, he has consecutively taught the undergraduate biochemistry courses that are considered the most challenging for students. Xiao used his nickname “River” and the metaphor of “paddling against the rapid flow of the River” to encourage his students to take on the challenges of biochemistry.
Since 2013, Xiao has participated in several federal grant programs where he practiced innovative educational models and applied them to his classes. He welcomes students interested in scientific research to conduct work in his lab and has mentored numerous undergraduate and graduate student researchers. On many occasions, Xiao has been selected by graduating seniors for best teaching awards as well as received mentoring awards from the University. He truly believes that it is the teacher’s obligation to find the best way to encourage students to learn and to find unique teaching methods that meet students’ individual needs.
“The goal of a college teacher is to help students know how to learn instead of knowledge itself,” Xiao said. “After college education, the students should have the skills to survive and be successful in the society.”
For over a decade, the Board of Regents has presented more than $20 million to over 750 outstanding UT educators. Including Slade and Xiao, 74 UTEP faculty members have received this award.
“These awards demonstrate the Board’s appreciation for exceptional educators at each of the 14 UT institutions,” Board of Regents Chairman Kevin P. Eltife said. “Their dedication to teaching excellence and student success is instrumental to achieving our education, research and health care missions.”
Nominees undergo a series of rigorous evaluations by students, peer faculty and external reviewers who consider a range of activities and criteria in their evaluations of a candidate's teaching performance, including classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes.
“Great teachers inspire, motivate and challenge their students,” UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “We honor these outstanding educators for their service to Texas and Texans.”