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UT System distinguished educators foster student success, best teaching practices

In 2012, top educators from the eight UT academic institutions convened to set simple but important goals: ensure recognition of outstanding teachers and foster continuous classroom innovation and student success.

They established the UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers, which today is one of the nation’s only university system-level advisory and advocacy groups dedicated to improving teaching.

This week, several hundred educators from all eight UT academic institutions have gathered virtually for the Academy of Distinguished Teachers’ first conference. It’s a conference for UT teachers, by UT teachers.

Titled Teaching in Texas: Where Do We Go from Here?, the conference is designed to engage participants in reflection, assessment and action-planning to ensure that faculty and students across the System teach and learn in supportive, inclusive and compassionate environments.

“There is no better group than the UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers to lead a discussion with fellow educators from across all the academic campuses on what the future of teaching in Texas might look like,” Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “When it comes to student success, we’re honored to have these exceptional educators driving both the conversation and best practices.”

The Academy now includes more than 30 fellows and inducts new faculty members annually. Only past recipients of the prestigious Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award are eligible for membership.

“Since its founding, the Academy has dreamed of putting on a systemwide teaching conference,” said Catherine Ross, Ph.D., an English professor at UT Tyler, conference co-chair and president of the Academy. “The teaching crisis caused by COVID-19 pushed us to make the dream a reality, and we are using our overall experience and expertise, plus our acquired skills in online teaching, to do this virtually and with an eye to the future.”

Over three days, participants are focusing on assessing and improving the culture of teaching and learning; creating a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion; and fostering compassion, connection and change.

Chancellor Milliken and UT Austin President Jay Hartzell addressed the group Wednesday; UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Archie Holmes will close the conference Friday.

“A great treasure of the UT System is its excellent teachers, from all academic disciplines and all regions of our state,” said Jill Fleuriet, Ph.D., conference co-chair and anthropology professor and associate dean of the Honors College at UT San Antonio. “This conference provides a space for hundreds of them to exchange ideas and strategies for student-centered teaching across our academic campuses.”

This week’s conference is not the first significant collaborative effort of the Academy. In 2015, the group published “The Little Orange Book” to assist new faculty and graduate teaching assistants with tips on classroom management and approach. The Little Orange Book can be downloaded for free through Apple iBooks.

The Academy will induct four new fellows later this month. They include:

  • Hector Aguilar, Ph.D., distinguished senior lecturer, UT San Antonio
  • Alyssa Cavazos, Ph.D., associate professor or rhetoric, composition & literacy, UT Rio Grande Valley
  • Joanna Gentsch, Ph.D., director of student and community engagement, UT Dallas
  • Denise Lujan, M.Ed., director of developmental mathematics, UT El Paso

About The University of Texas System

For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care. With 14 institutions, an enrollment of more than 240,000 students and an operating budget of $21.7 billion (FY 2021), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. UT institutions produce more than 64,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and more than half of its medical degrees. Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 9.2 million outpatient visits and 1.8 million hospital days last year. UT institutions also are among the most innovative in the world, collectively ranking No. 3 for most U.S. patents granted in 2019, and the UT System is No. 1 in Texas and No. 2 in the nation in federal research expenditures. The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and more than 85,000 health care professionals, researchers and support staff.

News Contact Information

Karen Adler: • 512-499-4360 (direct) • 210-912-8055 (cell)