College of Arts and Sciences Names First Recipients of Excellence in Teaching Award

Release Date: April 25, 2001 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences has announced four recipients of its first annual Arts and Sciences Faculty Teaching Award. The recipients each represent one of the four disciplines that comprise the college -- science and mathematics, arts, behavioral sciences and the humanities.

They are Huw Davies, Ph.D., of Clarence Center, Larkin Professor of Organic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry; Thomas Ralabate of Williamsville, assistant professor, Department of Theatre and Dance; Christopher Mele, Ph.D., of Buffalo, associate professor, Department of Sociology, and James Holstun, Ph.D., of Buffalo, professor, Department of English. All were nominated with exceptional praise from their department chairs, fellow faculty members, and graduate and undergraduate students.

The award certificate and a monetary gift of $500 will be presented to each recipient at the annual College of Arts and Science Awards Ceremony, to be held at 2 p.m. May 1 in Slee Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

Charles Stinger, interim dean of the college, said the award was designed to recognize superior teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

"The factors considered," he said, "included excellence in the classroom, the development of innovative teaching techniques, including the use of new instructional technology, and experience with classes of various sizes.

"Unlike recognition pertaining to the evaluation of research excellence, the primary thrust for an evaluation of teaching excellence must derive from within the university and I am pleased to be the agent of that recognition."

Jim Atwood, chair of the Department of Chemistry, along with several department faculty members and a host of graduate students who nominated Huw Davies described him as a professor who "excels at both classroom lecturing and mentoring of students in research," and called him "an outstanding chemical educator and richly deserving of (this) recognition."

Davies, a native of Aberystwyth, Wales, taught at Princeton University, Wake Forest University and the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., before joining the UB faculty in 1995. A well-published and prolific researcher who holds 11 patents in his field, Davies consistently earns well above the department's average ratings on both graduate and undergraduate student evaluations that praise his clarity, passion, rigor and generosity with his time.

In fact, Atwood said, many students have ranked Davies as the best chemistry teacher they have ever had, citing his thorough understanding of the material, capacity to communicate the information and a teaching style marked by his enthusiasm for the field. As one student wrote: "He puts his group in the enviable position of having a mentor (who gives them) enough freedom to develop the capacity to think independently, while not feeling abandoned in the laboratory."

Award-winning choreographer Thomas Ralabate, said Vincent O'Neill, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, is "a model of insight, vision and unbridled enthusiasm...who has earned an almost legendary status as an exceptionally gifted teacher of exemplary dedication."

Ralabate, a nationally and internationally recognized teacher, dancer and choreographer, has taught graduate and undergraduate dance and choreography at UB since 1976. He originated and developed the department's curriculum for tap, jazz and social dance while insisting on a solid academic core in that curriculum. As a result, said O'Neill, "he has helped develop generations of dance graduates remarkable not only for their physical skills, but for their in-depth knowledge of their art form."

A former North American Latin Ballroom dance champion, Ralabate was named the first recipient of the Adele Artinean award from the National Association of Dancer Masters (NADM). The award honors outstanding contributors to the establishment of educational standards for the art of dance. In 1996, Ralabate received the association's Ivy Hall Foundation Award, an honor he shares with the late choreographer, director and dancer Gene Kelly and distinguished dancer/choreographer Edward Villella. In 1993, the NADM presented him with its Artistic Achievement Award.

Michael Farrell, chair of the Department of Sociology, called his colleague, Christopher Mele, "a wonderful to teach a wide range of both undergraduate and graduate students...and get them excited about learning. It is teaching like his that builds the reputation of this university as an exiting place to study."

Mele, the author of two recent books and a number of book chapters and peer-reviewed articles, said his approach is to create instructional environments that facilitate learning, harness new technologies to achieve pedagogical goals and design courses that capture the interests of students at both the advanced and basic level. He was awarded a College of Arts and Sciences' Educational Technology Grant last year and has adopted multimedia applications for teaching most

of his classes with the proviso, he said, "that such technology assist, but not substitute for or overwhelm, the learning enterprise."

Farrell said Mele has been a leader in teaching on the graduate and undergraduate level since he arrived at UB in 1996 and noted that his doctoral students remark on how he engages them as colleagues.

"Chris takes them to the forefront of his field and works along side them to evaluate and understand the most exciting new work," Farrell said. "Not surprisingly, graduate students are flocking to him to direct their research."

English department Chair Barbara Bono called James Holstun, "a Marxist-humanist of considerable scholarly achievement and distinction...great drive and resolution."

She added that he "sets standards for and enables virtually every student in his classes to do more thinking, more creative and critical intellectual work, than that of which they believed they were capable."

Holstun joined the UB English faculty in 1983, teaching a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses in English literature and world literature, frequently with an eye to the philosophical discourses of modernity and their social and political implications for marginalized groups.

"Jim Holstun's extraordinary cumulative undergraduate teaching evaluations, his demanding and productive teaching practices, and individual undergraduate student testimony," Bono said, "offers evidence of his immediate and long-term success with them."

She noted that that his former students praise him as a professor without equal in terms of class preparation, sincere responses to the work of students and enthusiastic teaching, and many give him a great deal of credit for their considerable professional accomplishments, "and his (current) graduate students close the chorus."

In selecting the winners, the CAS Committee on Awards and Recognitions considered nominating letters from department chairs, pertinent student evaluation data and input from informed faculty colleagues and former students.

The committee was chaired by Joseph Tufariello, professor of chemistry and associate dean of the college, who said nominations were open to all full-time instructors, regardless of academic rank, provided they had completed at least three years of full-time teaching in the college prior to Spring 2001. He added that no individual will be eligible to receive the award more than once in a five-year period.

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