CLAS Faculty Receive Teaching Excellence Awards

For their exceptional teaching and student engagement, Michael Walter, Alan Rauch, Tiffany Morin and Katie Kutcher have received the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ 2022 Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Walter, an associate professor of chemistry, and Rauch, a professor of English, each received the Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award, the first time that two faculty members were chosen for the honor. Morin, a faculty member in the Department of English, received the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Full-Time Lecturer. Kutcher, a faculty member in the Gerontology Program, earned the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Part-Time Faculty Member.

The award recipients were recognized at an awards ceremony and reception in the Halton Reading Room in J. Murrey Atkins Library. In addition to the award recipients, finalists who were honored were:

  • Crystal Eddins, Africana Studies, and Paola Lopez-Duarte, Biological Sciences: Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award.
  • Kathleen Burke, Psychological Science, and Samantha Furr, Biological Sciences: Outstanding Teaching by a Full-Time Lecturer.
  • Leah Walton, History: Outstanding Teaching by a Part-Time Faculty Member.

Alan Rauch, English

Alan Rauch has taught in the Department of English since 2002. As a trained scientist with a bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in zoology, and a literary scholar with master’s and doctoral degrees in literature, Rauch has built an innovative research portfolio. He has long been interested in the intersections between science and the humanities, and his research and teaching showcase the dimensions of both.

In one course, ‘Animals, Culture and Society,’ Rauch used the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens to teach about ecology, environmentalism, and zoology, to give students a fuller understanding “of not only what animals mean to humans and how humans respond to animals, but to address the ‘posthuman condition.’ ” 

One student wrote, “I first met Dr. Rauch when I took his animals class my freshman year where I grew an interest in animal toxicity and began to develop chemical questions about animal interactions. I have had the opportunity to expand on these interests with Dr. Rauch through an independent study focusing on the chemical evolution of plant-animal toxicity relationships. As a chemistry major, my study focus has been on the technical aspects of my science and has neglected my philosophically driven questions which led me to pursue science in the first place. With Dr. Rauch I am able to make these connections, which has been a unique and fulfilling experience.”  

Rauch’s teaching practice connects to his research, the development of curiosity, and rigorous interrogation. The same dynamic is present in his mentoring of students, including through the Office of Undergraduate Research Summer Research Scholars program. He also works with students on publications, such as one student’s detailed study of sloths in popular culture that will be included in Rauch’s forthcoming book, “Sloth.”

Michael Walter, Chemistry

Michael Walter joined the faculty at UNC Charlotte in 2011. Since then, he has secured over $2.5 million in external grant funding and published two dozen papers. He is the inventor of co-inventor for three patents, one of the patents is licensed to a local company. 

His research program, and his real-world teaching illustrations, are built around the study of various materials that use light interactions for energy. Students learn how powerful organic chemistry photochemical tools can be used to address scientific challenges. 

Undergraduate students are attracted to Walter’s research laboratory as early as their sophomore year as a result of their experiences in his classes. He has mentored 53 students from a variety of majors, including chemistry, biology, physics, public health, and mathematics.

His interactions with undergraduate students have resulted in over 50 research talks and posters with several invited talks, all presented by the students.

He developed an “e-molecules” activity where students research the structure of widely used organic molecules that might be used in pharmaceuticals or other materials. The course also includes a hands-on photochemistry activity, called  “Juice-from-Juice” where students build blackberry juice, dye-sensitized solar cells. The activity is a powerful example of how an organic molecule extracted from blackberry juice can be used to harness sunlight and convert it to usable electricity and power.

A new activity in his classes looks at the connections among the luminescent materials encountered in daily lives, from organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) in cell phone screens to the bioluminescence from fireflies seen on a summer night.

He has also worked with undergraduate students from the College of Arts + Architecture on an award-winning collaborative solar energy project.

Tiffany Morin, English

Tiffany Morin has been a lecturer in the Department of English since 2018, after serving as an adjunct lecturer in the department from 2008 to 2018. She has been coordinator of the English Learning Community since 2012. She earned a master’s degree from UNC Charlotte in English Literature in 2008.

The awards committee pointed to Morin’s commitment to engagement and student transformation. Morin publishes and presents talks on themes of villains and horror in children’s literature, with a particular focus on the role of vampires in this imaginary.

Her classes similarly engage students in in-depth and critical thinking about the role of evil, villains, and monsters in literature and daily life. Her classes range from first-year seminars to upper-level English courses and use a variety of innovative teaching and learning techniques, such as an Alice in Wonderland tea party and poetry reading, trips to the Charlotte Ballet and Carolina Renaissance Festival, guest lectures and class visits by authors, and robust debates about the nature of good and evil.

Morin has developed her teaching techniques through a variety of teaching experiences, seminars, and workshops. She now holds “open swim” Zoom hours to help other faculty develop online teaching skills. She advises on library engagement, and presents best practices for engaged learning in student learning communities.

Students in her courses describe “life-changing experiences” and emphasize how Morin’s classes not only teach content but also broader life skills. One student said, “I could see myself grow more and more passionate and excited about my English studies and I can honestly say I feel extremely encouraged and confident about the path I’m on. I have never felt more comfortable in a school setting before.”

Another student said, “I’ve got a lot more out of this class than I ever expected to – actual personal growth – which is crazy considering that this is an online class on monster films.”

Kate Kutcher, Gerontology

Katie Kutcher earned a master’s degree in gerontology from UNC Charlotte in 2011 and added a certificate in non-profit management from Duke University in 2016.

With her full-time employment as an aging programs coordinator with the Centralina Area Agency on Aging, she supervises and supports staff in nutrition, senior centers, transportation and evidence-based health programs. The awards committee described Kutcher as an innovative teacher focused on helping students make real-world connections.

Kutcher has taught classes at UNC Charlotte for the last five years, including courses focused on aging and dementia at the undergraduate and graduate level. In her classes, she connects content with life skills including time management and personal reflection around aging, and engages students  with community partners through service-learning opportunities. She also emphasizes her classroom as a safe space where students’ opinions and input are valued, including students in syllabus and classroom guideline creation at the start of each semester.

One student said, “I feel like Professor Kutcher really helped me and cared for my classmates (and me) and was always respectful and professional.”

A community partner described the impact of one of her engaged learning activities. “The rapid and continual development of technology, combined with the COVID pandemic, has seemed to leave seniors more and more alienated from much of the world, and this conversation program is a great way to keep them involved and feel valued,” the partner said. “I want to thank you and all of the students for this from the bottom of my heart!”

Awards Committees

Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research selection committee members were: committee Chair Didier Dreau, Biological Sciences Department; Kirill Afonin, Chemistry Department; and Matthew Rowney, English Department.

Selection committee members for the part-time and full-time teaching awards were committee Chair Sara Juengst, Anthropology Department; Benita Staples, Geography and Earth Sciences Department; and Sarah Wells, Chemistry Department.

Top Image: Dean Nancy Gutierrez (left to right), Alan Rauch, Katie Kutcher, Tiffany Morin, Michael Walter