Engineering professor receives UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award

Sami Sparber

Assistant engineering professor Paola Passalacqua is one of seven UT faculty members selected to receive a 2017 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, the highest teaching honor granted by the UT System Board of Regents.

The award, which comes with a $25,000 stipend, is meant to honor faculty members of UT System institutions who go above and beyond in their work. Passalacqua currently teaches undergraduate courses in hydraulics and hydrology. She has taught at UT since 2011 and said her main priority as an educator is to foster an environment in which students feel comfortable and ready to learn.

“I believe learning should be an enjoyable experience,” Passalacqua said. “My goal as a teacher is to establish a classroom experience which is engaging, welcoming, fun and structured, yet informal.”

The candidate selection process requires several evaluations by students and peer faculty members as well as a detailed teaching portfolio compiled by the nominee. 

Engineering professor Desmond Lawler spoke on Passalacqua’s behalf during the selection process. Lawler said Passalacqua’s spectacular teaching as well as her tremendous impact made her the perfect candidate for the award.

“Paola has raised the bar considerably with her excellence in the classroom,” Lawler said. “Rarely, if ever, have I seen such a dramatic impact of a faculty member on students through undergraduate teaching as I see in Paola.”

Engineering graduate student Kyle Wright said Passalacqua inspired him to pursue his career in engineering even further by giving him the opportunity to continue his work beyond the classroom.

“Taking (Passalacqua’s) class as an undergrad shaped the rest of my life,” Wright said. “At the end of the semester, she invited me to participate in her research, which was the motivating factor in my decision to go to grad school. I don’t know that I would be doing anything that I’m doing now had it not been for that push from her.”

Passalacqua said she takes pride in encouraging students to pursue their passions.

“I love teaching because it allows me to share my passion for my field with students,” Passalacqua said. “Whatever they decide to work on in their future, I think the passion and enthusiasm we can communicate to our students through teaching goes beyond the actual course knowledge. It shows that people can pursue their dreams and follow their passions.