Academic Federation Honors Excellence in Teaching, Research

Quick Summary

  • Teaching award recipients; Sean Davis and Wrye Sententia, lecturers
  • Research award goes to Nathan C. Rockwell, project scientist

The Academic Federation recently announced Sean Davis, Nathan C. Rockwell and Wrye Sententia as the recipients of its Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Research awards for 2016:

Senate-Federation Awards Program

This year’s Academic Senate and Academic Federation awards program, including the Faculty Research Lecture, is set for Monday, May 2. Starting time is 5:30 p.m. in the AGR Room at the Buehler Alumni Center. (Dateline erred in an earlier version of this story, giving an incorrect day for the awards program.)

The Academic Federation will present its annual awards for Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Research. The Davis Division of the Academic Senate will present its annual awards for Distinguished Scholarly Public Service and Distinguished Teaching, and the senate’s highest honor, the Faculty Research Lecture Award.

Donald Strong, professor, of the Department of Evolution and Ecology and the Bodega Marine Laboratory, is the Faculty Research Lecture Award recipient, and will deliver his lecture after the awards program. His topic: “Ecological Misadventures of Invasive Spartina”— spartina being the Atlantic cordgrass that he researches. He is perhaps the world’s leading expert on Atlantic cordgrass, which is invading bays and estuaries of the West Coast of the U.S. and other locations around the world.

People planning to attend the Academic Awards program are asked to register here.

See Academic Senate awards story.

The federation gives the awards annually, selecting the recipients from among its membership of about 1,500 academics, with titles that include adjunct professor and adjunct instructor, agronomist, academic administrator and academic coordinator, librarian and program coordinator, as well as Cooperative Extension specialist — and, in the case of this year’s recipients, lecturer and project scientist.

The following write-ups are derived from the selection committees’ recommendations:

Excellence in Teaching

 Sean Davis

Sean Davis, continuing lecturer, Department of Computer ScienceHe teaches three classes almost every quarter, but, even more remarkable are the number of students in each of his classes and the number of different classes that he teaches. He primarily teaches lower-division classes, but he also teaches an upper-division class and the class that all computer science teaching assistants take to become familiar with their responsibilities. A colleague commented that Davis wants to give his students the skills that they will need to be successful and wants to give faculty the time they need to pursue their research. Students commented that Davis’ lectures are clear and well prepared, that his handouts are very detailed and accessible, that he has a unique ability to patiently answer questions in lectures with several hundred students, that his programming assignments and exams are tough but fair and very instructive, that he is always willingly attentive to student needs, and that he is accessible to students for advice on graduate school or searches for employment. 

 Wrye Sententia

Wrye Sententia, continuing lecturer, University Writing Program — She takes the initiative again and again to lead and excel in her roles as teacher, researcher, administrator and writer in the University Writing Program and in the UC Davis academic community. She is often the first to explore new research on teaching writing or on student learning. She is also the first to share her experiences to open new spaces and opportunities for her colleagues and students. Her energetic and generous commitment to all students’ potential to learn and succeed is constant and inspiring. One of her students commented: “Her assigned coursework was so relevant for my goal of being a better writer that I was constantly excited to do homework.” Sententia has undertaken substantial curriculum development course design, pioneered new teaching technologies, given professional development workshops, and participated in public conversations about improving teaching and writing in the disciplines at UC Davis. She mentors former students as well as her present-day students. A colleague wrote: “She communicates competence and a teacher-student solidarity I’d sum up as, ‘We’re working together here.’” 

Excellence in Research

 Nathan C. Rockwell

Nathan C. Rockwell, project scientist, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology — His work informs new avenues for increasing light harvesting efficiency of food and energy crop species, and presages complete understanding of light signal transfer. He is the founding father and driving force of research on cyanobacteriochromes, or CBCRs, a family of phytochrome-related light sensors. Rockwell's studies have led to new insights into how CBCR sensors perceive different colors of light, how photoactivation of the bound pigment leads to activation of the surrounding protein scaffold to transmit information to associated signaling output domains and how these molecules can be engineered as light switches in living cells for biotechnological applications. His recent discovery of novel far-red light sensors holds enormous potential in the fields of neurobiology and medicine by opening a window for deep light penetration into tissue. The pending patent application that is supported by the UC Davis Technology Transfer Office underscores the importance of the possibilities. Rockwell participates directly in the research of all grant participants and has co-authored 39 peer-reviewed publications since 2009 (first author on 14).

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