The UNM College of Arts and Sciences recently announced the winners of its 2022 Teaching Excellence Awards. This year’s honorees are Cindy Gevarter, assistant professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Colin Olson, senior lecturer III in the Department of Sociology, and Samuel Torres, Ph.D. student and teaching assistant in the Department of Sociology.

To honor their outstanding contributions to the instructional mission of the College, Gevarter and Olson will each receive a permanent $1,000 increase to their base salaries and Torres will receive a $1,000 stipend. The three awardees will also be recognized later this semester at the annual teaching award ceremony hosted by the UNM Center for Teaching and Learning.

Gevarter

Cindy Gevarter
Assistant Professor, Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences 

An experienced special education teacher and Behavior Analyst, Gevarter earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Austin in 2015 and joined the UNM faculty in 2017.  
In her research, Gevarter investigates the communication intervention and assessment methods appropriate for young children with autism spectrum disorder and related developmental disabilities. Her scholarly work has focused on the early development of functional vocal speech, naturalistic training methods, the assessment and selection of individualized communication systems, and other related topics. She is the lead or co-author of over two dozen scholarly articles and book chapters in her field. 

The collaborative spirit characteristic of Gevarter’s scholarly work is also a hallmark of her teaching. She uses carefully crafted small-group practice exercises and group activities to foster meaningful discussions among her students and to give them the opportunity to work together to comprehend concepts by putting them into practice. She takes this tack whether she is teaching SHS 430: Language Development to undergraduate students; SHS 532: Augmentative and Alternative Communication to graduate students; or her newly developed course SHS 439/539: Autism and Developmental Disabilities to both undergraduate and graduate students. 

In her mentorship activities collaboration is also key. Gevarter has involved several of the graduate and undergraduate assistants working in her lab in the planning and implementation of large-scale research projects. This has culminated in her students serving as co-authors on several of her recent presentations and publications. Gevarter has also been awarded a five-year training grant from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. The grant, valued at over $800,000, is entitled Project SCENES: Social-communication: Collaborating Early with Naturalistic, Evidence-based Supports. Twenty M.A. students and one Ph.D. student will be funded through the grant, and Gevarter will oversee the training these graduate students will receive on providing clinical services to children with autism. 

Gevarter constantly seeks learning opportunities for herself as well. She completes annual continuing education hours to maintain her status as a board-certified Behavior Analyst; she consults articles, webinars, podcasts, and social media groups to build her knowledge of how anti-racist and anti-ableist ideas can be incorporated into her teaching; and she regularly participates in training sessions hosted by professional organizations such as the American Speech-Hearing Association Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) special interest group. 
Her former and current students attest that Gevarter encourages and cultivates community inside and outside of the classroom, constantly champions her students’ success, and models the very life-long earning that she aims to foster in her students. In their words, Gevarter “is a natural leader with an amazing ability to unite people,” she “prioritizes research opportunities for populations who are often marginalized and underrepresented in research” and “she always sees opportunity where others may see a barrier or a roadblock.” 

The College is proud to honor Gevarter’s many successes as a teacher and mentor and to recognize the exceptional work that she does for our students with a 2022 A&S Teaching Excellence Award. 

Colin Olson  
Senior Lecturer III, Department of Sociology

Olson began teaching in the UNM Department of Sociology over twenty years ago as a Ph.D. student and Teaching Assistant in the Sociology graduate program. He joined the ranks of UNM’s full-time faculty in 2014 when he was appointed Senior Lecturer III in Sociology, and he has played a central role in the delivery of the department’s curriculum ever since. He regularly teaches five different Criminology and Sociology courses each semester and, in total, has taught fifteen different courses for the department including the high-enrolling General Education course SOCI 1110: Introduction to Sociology; the department’s majors-only internship course SOCI 488: Field Observation and Experience; and several courses required for the Criminology major such as SOCI 312: Causes of Crime and Delinquency and SOCI 380: Introduction to Research Methods. 

Olson has solidified his standing as one of the department’s most prized and respected instructors due to the deliberate and thoughtful way that he puts students at the center of the learning experience. Students are the designated leaders of each class session. They direct the discussions, steer the conversations, and have ownership over their classroom space. The results are significant. Olson’s students remain engaged, they remain present, and they take responsibility for their learning and the learning experience of their peers. In class, Olson provides guidance and clarification as needed, and on each syllabus, he includes a prefatory “About Your Instructor” section in which he explains what drew him to the study of sociology and where he invites his students to learn sociology with him and with their peers. 

That Olson’s students rise to occasion class after class, even as he consistently teaches well over 200 students each semester, is a testament to how firmly he is committed to the principle that stands at the heart of his teaching philosophy. Learning “should be an aesthetic experience,” he writes, “one that touches our senses and brings us to life. We are wise to consider how we teach as much as what we teach and bring these two together as closely as we can. If we can accomplish this, a learning environment will be created where we can’t help ourselves but learn.” 

The success that Olson has had creating just such a learning environment has not been lost on his students. A student who took five different classes with Olson explains, “He is an instructor who simultaneously builds an environment where students can easily absorb the subject matter, complete their coursework, but are also inspired to form their own thoughts and positions in class discussions.” Another student, who took four separate classes with Olson, remarks, “Dr. Olson’s commitment to his students and critical pedagogy has persistently been evident to me in my time at UNM and it serves as an inspiration of the type of instructor I hope to be one day.” Olson earns this sort of praise from his students every semester – praise that speaks to their appreciation for the student-centered way that Olson orchestrates his classes and for the lasting impact that his classes have on all their academic pursuits. 

Earning formal accolades for his teaching is nothing new for Olson. In 2016 he was recognized as Lecturer or Affiliated Teacher of the Year by UNM’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and in 2005, while a Teaching Assistant in Sociology, A&S recognized his excellence in teaching by awarding him the Gunter Starkey Teaching Award. The College is proud to celebrate Olson’s remarkable work as a teacher yet again and honor his ever-growing list of accomplishments with a 2022 A&S Teaching Excellence Award. 

Torres

Samuel Torres 
Ph.D. Student & Teaching Assistant, Department of Sociology 

After earning his B.A. in Criminology and his M.A. in Sociology from UNM, Torres began teaching in the Department of Sociology as a Ph.D. student and Teaching Assistant in Fall 2019. Since then he has twice taught SOCI 312: Causes of Crime and Delinquency and four times taught SOCI 381L: Sociological Data Analysis. Torres has taught each of these core Criminology courses as face-to-face and online offerings. He is also one of only two Ph.D. students who has recently served as the instructor of record for SOCI 381L, a rigorous four-credit hour course that is comprised of a lecture component and a weekly lab in which students develop practical skills through hands-on use of the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software.

Torres emerged as a candidate for teaching SOCI 381L after his standout performance as a graduate assistant and lab instructor for the course. Since earning the responsibility of being a sole instructor for SOCI 381L, Torres has worked diligently to develop a structure and curriculum for the course that bear his own unique imprint, and the results have been terrific. 

Torres choreographs his class sessions so that, during each one, students have the opportunity to think through problems together. To facilitate their group learning experience, he creates innovative assignments for the students to tackle, one of which requires them to use statistical analysis to determine whether the claims made in online news stories are accurate. The innovativeness and effectiveness of this particular assignment’s design has been recognized by members of the American Sociology Association, who selected it for publication in their peer-reviewed, online searchable database TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology. 

Here at UNM, the effectiveness of the carefully crafted, thoughtful way that Torres teaches SOCI 381L continues to be appreciated by students and faculty member observers alike. Describing Torres’s classes as “educational workshops,” one tenure-stream faculty member emphasizes that by designing “assignments that require self-reflection and facilitate awareness of diversity and inequality in society,” Torres helps his students “learn to do stronger social research.” On this point, his students agree. In Torres’s classes they feel challenged and supported, and they appreciate the variety of resources that he supplies them to succeed. They appreciate the reminders and guidance for assignments that he provides through weekly email communications, the detailed feedback they receive from him on their submitted work, the original videos and PowerPoint slides that he posts to help keep students on track, and his willingness to adapt his methods of delivery and instruction to the needs of his students. 

There seems to be no aspect of his teaching or his courses that Torres is not willing to improve for his students. He completed a training workshop that earned him approval to teach SOCI 381L in one of UNM’s Technology Enhanced Learning Studios, rooms ideally suited for the sort of group work that students in the course are required to complete. He completed teacher training coursework and workshops that have earned him a UNM Graduate Teaching Academy Certificate. And semester after semester, he refines course assignments so that they are clearer, more effective, and more beneficial to the students in his courses. 

The College is grateful for the investments that Torres continues to make in the learning experience of his students, and it is proud to honor his achievements with a 2022 A&S Teaching Excellence Award.