CLAS Faculty Earn College Awards For Teaching Excellence

Shown (from left) are Paola Lopez-Duarte, Lennin Caro, Interim Dean John Smail and Samantha Suptela.

For their exceptional teaching and student engagement, Paola Lopez-Duarte, Samantha Suptela and Lennin Caro have received the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ 2023 Excellence in Teaching Awards. Six other faculty were honored as finalists for three awards.

Lopez-Duarte, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, received the Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award. Suptela, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, received the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Full-Time Lecturer. Caro, a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology, earned the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Part-Time Faculty Member.

The college recognized the honorees at an awards ceremony and reception on May 3. In addition to the award recipients, finalists who were honored are:

  • Loc Nguyen, Mathematics and Statistics; and Tina Shull, History: Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award
  • Jesse McKee, Criminal Justice and Criminology; Erin Godly-Reynolds ’20 Ph.D., Psychological Science; and Scott Wilde, Mathematics and Statistics: Outstanding Teaching by a Full-Time Lecturer
  • Jane Walsh ’13, ’19 M.S., Biological Sciences: Outstanding Teaching by a Part-Time Faculty Member

Paola Lopez-Duarte

Paola Lopez-Duarte has made it her mission “to build inclusive research communities and make the process of scientific discovery accessible to all.” Lopez-Duarte develops undergraduate and graduate courses in Marine Ecology and Marine Sciences that help students build skills to think like a scientist through courses that integrate research methods, experimental design and data interpretation. She has implemented unique assessment methods and a highly interactive community of undergraduate students to dig into primary literature and various research methods.

Lopez-Duarte also developed a “Meet My Marine Scientist” assignment where students contact scientists they are interested in working with or with whom they share an identity. Lopez-Duarte is dedicated to participation in the Transforming STEM Academy, where she uses new tools from the learning community to help her classrooms feel more navigable to students.

She has mentored many students through the Office of Undergraduate Students Scholars program and the Honors program. Undergraduate research includes laboratory and field work where students travel to sites to collect and process samples and use analytical tools. She stresses the importance of hands-on learning activities that task students, for example to find research articles in databases and develop annotated bibliographies. Her students present at regional and national conferences, and she routinely publishes original work with undergraduates as co-authors.

She serves as a faculty advisor for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), a chapter she initiated in the department. She has nominated students for Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society, and supported the students to apply for Sigma Xi’s “Grants-in-Aid of Research” and attend an annual conference.

Samantha Suptela

Samantha Suptela, ’03, ’12 Ph.D., joined the Charlotte faculty as a full-time lecturer in fall 2018 and is now an assistant teaching professor with expertise in immunology and microbiology, with research focused on host responses to bacterial infections of bone and brain cells and equity in STEM education. Along with her Charlotte degrees, Suptela earned a master’s in public health from the University of Virginia in 2013. 

She is currently working toward a master’s of education in learning, design, and technology, with a concentration in online learning and teaching and has recently earned the “Essentials of Teaching & Learning” certificate. She has won multiple grants to improve her courses, and she was a Faculty Pioneer in the Student Experience Project, an initiative that seeks to dismantle inequities in college success by transforming the student experience. As a member of The Center for Teaching and Learning’s “Active Learning Academy,” she has learned many ways to engage students through innovative teaching techniques that create a supportive learning environment.

One student commented, “I LOVE the classroom environment that Dr. Sam creates. She makes me feel so comfortable.” Another said, “I felt very confident in the course and in my chances to succeed regardless of my race and gender. I felt that I belonged and I never felt that I was being treated as if I did not belong.”

In 2019 Suptela was nominated for the Alpha Chi Omega Professor of the Year Award and the UNC Charlotte Student Government Association Professor of the Year Award. Suptela has set her goal as being “someone who inspires future generations of scientists and educators — making a difference in their lives and in the future of the discipline as a whole.” 

Lennin Caro

Lennin Caro, ’14, ’17 M.A., received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology from UNC Charlotte, focusing his graduate work on the different ways evangelical Christian groups at UNC Charlotte structure their outreach and mission programs to fellow students and more widely in the community. Caro is known for the sophistication of his analysis of field data using conceptual frameworks from anthropological work on religion and on economic culture. 

Caro began teaching at Charlotte in the fall 2018 semester. Soon after he began teaching, Caro became a full-time research the Camino Research Institute, the research arm of a community organization in Charlotte that works with local Latino people. Caro has used his native language skills and his anthropological training in his current role as lead community researcher, generating and disseminating data on the social and health needs of Latino families in Charlotte. 

Over 700 students have taken Lennin’s classes, including Introduction to Anthropology, Western History & Culture, Foundations of Anthropological Theory and Themes in Sociocultural Anthropology. His students have benefited from his skill as a teacher and his experience as a full-time community researcher. His deep engagement with the material and with his students is outstanding and is demonstrated in his teaching evaluations. 

“If this campus had more professors like Mr. Caro, every student would be able to understand difficult theories and concepts, learn in a stress free environment, and would always feel respected,” a former student wrote. “Mr. Caro is the epitome of what a teacher is and deserves acknowledgment for his approach, his capabilities, and his successful methods.”