Two UTEP Professors Recognized as UT Regents' Outstanding Teachers
Last Updated on August 13, 2018 at 12:00 AM
Originally published August 13, 2018
By Daniel Perez
One was a contrarian as an undergraduate while the other was a driven and meticulous learner at the same point in her life. The two became faculty members at The University of Texas at El Paso. Both said they draw on their pasts to prepare courses that engage their students — and their strategy has proven successful.
The University of Texas System Board of Regents recognized Irma Montelongo, Ph.D., associate professor of practice/online program coordinator for Chicano Studies, and Giulio Francia, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences, as recipients of the 2018 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards (ROTA) during an Aug. 9 luncheon at the Regents’ offices in Austin, Texas.
This is the 10th year that the Regents have presented these highly prestigious and competitive awards of excellence to faculty members from the UT System’s eight academic and six health institutions.
Francia and Montelongo said this honor validates their hard work and strengthens their resolve to develop more courses based on their ideas and strategies. Both said they were grateful for the award and stressed that they shared the recognition with their mentors, colleagues and students who inspire them to improve every day.
“We are very pleased that The University of Texas System Board of Regents has recognized two of our exceptional faculty members,” UTEP President Diana Natalicio said. “This well-deserved acknowledgement of Dr. Giulio Francia and Dr. Irma Montelongo is a source of great pride to all of us. They are powerful examples of the many talented and passionate UTEP faculty members whose deep commitment to teaching profoundly impacts our students as they develop and successfully pursue their highest aspirations.”
Carol A. Parker, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said this recognition brings great pride to The University of Texas at El Paso, where faculty commitment to student success is well known.
“This Regents’ recognition further validates UTEP’s commitment to exceptional instruction in the classroom and our faculty’s ongoing dedication to our students, our community and our mission of access and excellence,” Provost Parker said. “I’m honored to work alongside our two 2018 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award winners. I applaud this acknowledgement.”
Both recipients shared their thoughts about their roles as teachers and the opportunity to work at UTEP.
‘An Amazing Feeling’
Montelongo enrolled at UTEP to pursue a subject she loved: history. Her goal was to become a teacher because the interaction and free flow of information in a classroom energized her.
The El Paso native earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history in 2001 and 2003, respectively, and her doctorate in borderlands history in 2014. Montelongo began to teach at UTEP as a graduate student. Since then she has held many titles and earned numerous state, community and University awards. She called working at UTEP “an amazing feeling” because she gets to spend the majority of her day collaborating with brilliant students, staff and faculty.
Montelongo said her teaching methods are the result of bits and pieces of what she has learned from others. She uses individual-based and community-based learning strategies to promote an open and flexible classroom environment that celebrates diversity and encourages students to share ideas and collaborate.
“I am now a historian who absolutely loves teaching our students about their history and culture,” Montelongo said. “It was the best decision I have made to date.“
It was during her doctoral studies that she met Dennis Bixler-Marquez, Ph.D., chair of the Chicano Studies program. He hired her to develop his program’s online courses, which have grown tremendously under her leadership. He praised her as an educator, researcher of digital education platforms, and as a University representative who goes to major academic technology conferences.
“Dr. Montelongo is a historian with a superb teaching craft that is well recognized by her students and peers,” Bixler-Marquez said.
Passionate and Proactive
Francia grew up in the southeastern African countries of Mozambique and Swaziland. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Bristol and his Ph.D. in biology from Cancer Research UK, formerly known as Imperial Cancer Research Fund, in London, England. He worked in cancer research at the University of Toronto, Canada, before he took his first teaching job at UTEP in 2012.
He said part of his course development strategy is to consider the student perspective to figure out what would create a great class experience. He said he also considers how some of his mentor colleagues would enhance that specific course.
Among those mentors is Steve Varela, associate director of UTEP’s Academic Technologies (AT). Varela, a member of the inaugural ROTA class in 2009, said he has supported Francia’s research and teaching through multimedia projects and professional development done in conjunction with AT’s Creative Studios.
“Giulio has a passion for his research and for sharing this expertise with students,” Varela said. “He is proactive to learn about and implement innovative teaching strategies in his classes, and always wants to improve his approaches. Students know he values them and what they learn – and they engage in his classes because they know he is committed to their success.”
Francia said his ROTA is the result of a “fantastic” collegial effort that included his lab students, but especially his mentor faculty members Renato Aguilera, Ph.D., and Siddhartha “Sid” Das, Ph.D., professors of biological sciences, and Kristin Gosselink, Ph.D., and German Rosas-Acosta, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences.
“They are people whose hearts and souls are devoted to the education of their students,” Francia said.
ROTA nominees undergo a series of rigorous evaluations by students, peer faculty and external reviewers. The review panels 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.
“We are indebted to these educators who exemplify great teaching on every level,” Board of Regents Chair Sara Martinez Tucker said. “These are educators, researchers and health care professionals who – no matter how long they’ve been teaching – never stop thinking about new and innovative ways to enhance the learning experience.”
The Regents established the award in 2008 to recognize faculty members who deliver the highest quality of instruction in the classroom, laboratory, field and online. These awards are among the largest in the nation to recognize faculty performance. The Regents have awarded more than $19 million to 700 UT educators in the last 10 years.
Including Francia and Montelongo, 70 UTEP faculty members have received the award since its inception.