The Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for faculty and a graduate assistant recognizes dedication and demonstrated excellence as teachers of undergraduate students. It was established as a memorial to the late Frances Davis, who taught mathematics at Leeward Community College and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for 19 years.
John H.R. Burns
John H.R. Burns is an assistant professor of marine science at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Burns developed innovative techniques to create three-dimensional maps of coral reefs to accurately measure how natural and human-induced disturbances impact ecosystem function.
This transformative work has led to 3D reconstruction techniques being implemented by scientists and management agencies around the world. He and his colleagues continue to produce numerous publications to advance the field of underwater 3D modeling. His goal is to involve students in his research and provide them training with cutting-edge technology and data science tools.
Burns also continues to apply next-generation science tools to identify ecological and anthropogenic drivers of coral health to promote resilient coral ecosystems in the face of global stressors such as climate change. His expertise has led to his inclusion in the award-winning documentaries, Chasing Coral, Reefs at Risk and Island Earth. He has received funding from agencies such as NOAA, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Science Foundation to study coral reefs throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago, Palau, Guam and Kiribati.
Sabrina Diemert is a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa civil and environmental engineering (CEE) PhD student set to graduate in summer 2020. She taught laboratory-based courses in CEE and microbiology.
Diemert’s passionate teaching approach involves the use of active learning techniques, flipped lectures (recorded and posted online with in-class time for example problems and questions), a deep enthusiasm for core concepts (“the science behind the science”) and connections to real-life applications and research. She sought additional training by participating in a workshop series on Hawaiian engineering education, and incorporated considerations of local learning responses into her lesson plans.
She believes that effective teaching extends beyond the classroom into public science communication. Diemert has been heavily involved in community outreach through Graduate Women in Science Hawaiʻi, and was the 2019 winner of the UH Graduate Division Three Minute Thesis competition.
Jason Higa is an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry and Physiology at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. He teaches in a field involving volumes of information taught to hundreds of students in mass lectures, with potential long-term life-or-death implications.
He augments the lecture and magnifies prerequisite knowledge through strategies of analogy, mnemonics, physical engagement and incorporation of local and Hawaiian terminology. To complement cross-sectional images of a text, Higa organizes students to rise from their seats and collectively represent elements of a process, such as the heart muscle cells pumping blood through various stages of normal to abnormal.
Animating these stages of life-to-death simultaneously enlivens intellectual growth and memorializes the solemn responsibilities of future healthcare professionals. A student reflects, “I wonder if I would be where I am today, the same person I’ve become, had it not been for Dr. Jason Higa.”
Audrey Mendoza is an assistant professor of speech at Windward Community College. She has taught at the college since 2011 and the connections Mendoza makes with her students are evident in the speeches they write and deliver.
She shows them inventive strategies to alleviate the nerves of public speaking, as well as ‘tricks’ they can practice to hone their speaking skills. Mendoza also teaches body language in public speaking, allowing students to be much more aware of themselves—to have poise and presence, and exude self-confidence. One student remarked, “I was challenged while having a lot of fun. I can honestly say that I have grown as a public speaker…I have learned skills that will last a lifetime.”
Mendoza’s commitment to Windward CC goes beyond her teaching. She has transformed the speech discipline there by invigorating the curriculum—shepherding a set of hallmarks for oral communication focused credits at the community college level, founding and growing a robust debate program and increasing student usage of the speech lab by an order of magnitude.
Rosemary “Rosie” Vierra is an associate professor and the coordinator for UH Maui College’s dental hygiene program. She has taught in the program since 2008. She is both a campus leader and exceptional teacher.
Vierra has wide support from the industry, which is evident in the high engagement with the dental hygiene community. She has secured Hawaii Dental Service Foundation grants to support program growth and was key in establishing the Daniel K. Inouye UH Maui College Dental Hygiene Learning Clinic. She offers numerous enriching learning experiences for students that include service learning, outreach to public high schools and partnerships with businesses and organizations that provide students valuable experiences in the field.
So far, 55 students have graduated from the program and are all working as licensed dental hygienists. Many attest to Vierra’s dedication and passion for the success of her students, an unwavering commitment that is evident in the hours she spends teaching, coordinating and continuously striving to elevate the program.