The Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching is awarded by the Board of Regents as tribute to faculty members who exhibit an extraordinary level of subject mastery and scholarship, teaching effectiveness and creativity, and personal values that benefit students.
Bradley Ashburn, Mark Branner, Paul Briggs, Terrence Bruns, Jane Jaeeun Chung-Do, Tanya Dean, Derrick Higginbotham, Kimberly Koide Iwao, Karen Kamahele, Justina Taft Mattos, Wendy Meguro, Mary Mostafanezhad, Trenton Niemi, Wayde Oshiro and Scott Rowland received the 2021 award.
Bradley Ashburn, UH West Oʻahu
Bradley Ashburn is an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu. His research group focuses on the synthesis and biological evaluation of novel antiparasitic and antifungal compounds.
Many of his former students and researchers have gone on to graduate from professional healthcare programs locally and across the nation. Mentoring students in their journey through academia and beyond is the highlight of his career.
“His positive energy makes class very fun and enjoyable, especially since organic chemistry is a course many students are nervous about and dread taking,” a student said.
After postdoctoral research at UH Mānoa, he spent 10 years at Leeward Community College where he rose to the rank of associate professor teaching biochemistry and organic chemistry coursework. In August 2019, Ashburn embarked on an exciting new adventure joining the dynamic faculty at UH West Oʻahu.
Mark Branner, UH Mānoa
Mark Branner is an assistant professor of theatre and dance in the UH Mānoa College of Arts, Languages & Letters. He approaches every professional task with vision, energy and compassion, “traits that define him as a superlative teacher,” according to one of his colleagues.
To Branner, the best teaching, theatrical directing and leadership all pose the question: “How can I benefit you and help you succeed?” and then offer everything possible in service to that. Students view him as the heart and soul of Theater for Young Audiences, and they strive to meet the challenges he sets, earning many awards, fellowships and positions in the profession.
A colleague stated that Branner creates bonds that allow students to trust him implicitly, an essential trait to creating great art. “He rallies others around an idea and vision, with great strength of conviction, tempered by a true caring of people. His students then go forward to create their own stellar projects, unhindered by the obstacles they face. This is the epitome of why he is an outstanding teacher.”
Paul Briggs, Windward CC
Paul Briggs is an economics professor at Windward Community College. Guidance and encouragement are part of what makes Briggs an outstanding teacher.
“I had my reservations about returning to school. During my time in Professor Paul Brigg’s classes I would ask him questions about transferring to UH and the Shidler program. I doubted myself and my ability, but Paul encouraged me that I had what it took to be a great student at WCC and at UH,” said a non-traditional student. “I am currently in my capstone class at UH and will graduate from Shidler with a 4.0 and I can’t say I would be here if it wasn’t for Mr. Briggs’ encouragement. Sometimes a person just needs to have another person to truly believe in them.”
Briggs provides consistent support for student success. He believes in them, and is a person that sees their potential and is passionate about seeing that potential achieved. His students have a deep gratitude to him for providing them with a great education, solid advice and encouragement to succeed in life.
Terrence Bruns, Kauaʻi CC
Terrence Bruns is an assistant professor in biological science at Kauaʻi CC. He has been an educator on Kauaʻi since 1990 and started teaching at Kauaʻi CC in 2004.
“I believe that one learns by doing. As an educator you need to be passionate about your subject matter. It is more than just listing and memorizing a bunch of facts. It is important to try and light the spark for the love of learning. You need to provide opportunities and make learning a personal endeavor,” Bruns said.
Bruns has been recognized by his peers and students as a 2012 recipient of the Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. His dedication to his students extends well beyond the classroom and is evidenced by their academic and professional success.
One Kauaʻi CC student said, “His anatomy and physiology class not only teaches us the facts but focuses on understanding and applying the knowledge to answer the questions that arise. This understanding inspires us as students to become critical thinkers and leaders that can make good decisions.”
Jane Jaeeun Chung-Do, UH Mānoa
Jane Jaeeun Chung-Do is an associate professor in the Office of Public Health Studies in the UH Mānoa Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health. She begins her work with students from the classroom leading up to their extensive community practicums by co-developing a Brave Space Agreement. These set the terms of engagement regarding equitability, accountability, intentionality, confidentiality, compassion, critical thought and cultural adeptness, all tenets that flow continuously between classroom and community.
A medical professional colleague observed that Chung-Do ensures student education is “not solely theory-based, rather it centers on the needs of Hawaiʻi‘s communities and true community-based approaches to disparities work. She leads by example, inspiring those around her to impact the health of Hawaiʻi‘s communities.”
A former student wrote that she “was only able to take one class with Dr. Chung-Do. Yet, this class was the most iconic course of my master’s in public health journey. At completion of the course, she suggested publishing our group project and continued to guide me through that process until it was published.”
Tanya Dean, Hawaiʻi CC–Pālamanui
Tanya Dean is an assistant professor of English at the Hawaiʻi CC–Pālamanui in Kona. Dean’s passion for student learning is seen in her relentless focus on what is best for students.
One student said the individualized attention Dean provided is a major reason he succeeded in her class and learned skills he continues to use throughout his higher education career. “She had aloha for me and my classmates, and believed in all of our success,” the student wrote.
Dean has taught at Hawaiʻi CC since 2011. Her colleagues are impressed by her talent as a teacher and her ability to create engaging, interactive class sessions that support student learning. In addition, they noted Dean’s continual commitment to maintaining her exceptional level of instruction. “She is the epitome of excellence in teaching,” her colleague stated, “and our students and this college are lucky to have her.”
Derrick Higginbotham, UH Mānoa
Derrick Higginbotham is an associate professor of English in the UH Mānoa College of Arts, Languages & Letters. His classroom atmosphere is described as one of intellectual vigor that enables students to excel as readers and thinkers, in a spectrum of course topics from Shakespeare, medieval literature, early modern British literature, African literature and queer theory.
His teaching philosophy is rooted in the power of intellectual surprises born of the need to present a complex, globalized, premodern history as legible to students, no matter the student’s background. Students speak of Higginbotham’s agility in engaging them with texts distant temporally, linguistically and culturally from a modern-day mindset.
Higginbotham collaborated with UH Mānoa librarians and created opportunities for students to navigate the conventions of the university and Wikipedia, doing independent research and collaborating with editors outside the academy. Colleagues refer to him as having a “highly affirmative pedagogy,” absolutely convinced that “the department has in Professor Higginbotham a master teacher.”
Kimberly Koide Iwao, Kapiʻolani CC
Kimberly Koide Iwao is an instructor for the legal education program at Kapiʻolani CC. She is described as a consummate teacher and learner.
Iwao teaches several introductory classes as well as the capstone internship course for the Legal Education Program. She effectively incorporates real-world experiences as a licensed practicing attorney into her course content and continues to hone her facilitation skills for the online environment.
Students find her teaching style engaging. One student observed how Iwao “reformatted her lesson plan to accommodate a pure online learning experience.”
In 2018, Iwao founded Kapiʻolani CC’s Legal Education Program’s Estate Planning Clinic, which allows her students to interact with clients while giving pro bono services to them.
Iwao is currently a doctoral student at the UH Mānoa in the learning design and technology department. She spends her free time with her husband, two children and two dogs.
Karen Kamahele, Honolulu CC
Karen Kamahele is a fashion technology instructor at Honolulu CC with expertise in computer aided design and volume manufacturing. She started as a lecturer at Honolulu CC in 1996 while still managing the design department at Hilo Hattie, and has more than three decades of fashion industry experience.
The Kaimukī native is a proud Honolulu CC graduate of the fashion design and merchandising (now named fashion technology) program and an alumna of UH Mānoa. Growing up, Kamahele was consistently reminded that “Education is the key to success,” and shares her wisdom to help students.
When the pandemic hit, Kamahele responded by pre-bundling materials for students and ensured they had everything they needed for class at home. Colleagues and students describe her teaching as compassionate and motivating.
She sparks in her students the desire to reach higher and has worked to smooth the transfer pathway for students who decide to continue their education. A student said, “She amazes us with all things she does and yet still finds time to give us guidance, hope and encouragement in our studies.”
Justina Taft Mattos, UH Hilo
Justina Taft Mattos is an assistant professor of drama and performing arts at the UH Hilo. Theatre about life in Hawaiʻi is her passion, and she has been commissioned to direct plays by local and non-local playwrights for theatres on the island.
In addition to traditional theatre settings, Mattos has worked in less traditional formats, using students and community actors to develop live or videotaped dramatic vignettes and presentations for the Performing Arts Department as well as for organizations such as the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center and UH Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.
Mattos was raised in Hawaiʻi and is an alumna of UH Hilo, where she focused on theatre arts, as well as Hawaiian language and culture. She earned her MA in theatre from the University of Oregon, and her PhD in theatre history and criticism from UH Mānoa.
As a playwright, Mattos strives to celebrate local culture and to support the use of Hawaiian language in the wider community. She writes works for adults and children utilizing English, Hawaiʻi Creole English (Pidgin) and Hawaiian language.
Wendy Meguro, UH Mānoa
Wendy Meguro is an assistant professor in the UH Mānoa School of Architecture. She returned to her alma mater equipped with experience working in New York City as an associate for Atelier Ten, one of the world’s premier environmental design consultants.
Her unique joint appointment—75% School of Architecture, 25% Sea Grant—indicates her distinctive value to the university. She approaches architecture education with an urgent sense of purpose and optimism. A colleague remarked that Meguro’s ARCH 690 Urban Adaptation to Coastal Flooding course is “a most rewarding course, directly informing the City and County of Honolulu’s guidelines on adapting built environment to flooding and sea-level rise projections.”
Another colleague writes, “Professor Meguro’s congenial demeanor belies the urgency of her purpose. Her instruction exhibits impeccable preparation, deeply thought content and rigorous analysis based on empirical data and firsthand experience of case studies. But her deeper mission is moral. She ensures our students have everything they need to steer the world safely clear of the dire consequences of past environmental hubris.”
Mary Mostafanezhad, UH Mānoa
Mary Mostafanezhad is an assistant professor of geography in the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences. She teaches courses central to undergraduate and graduate departmental curriculum, which serve as electives for others. She builds her courses to maximize value to students who may or may not have professional interest in the topic by focusing on theoretical insights, and weaving together classic texts, neo-theoretical contributions and examples of innovative methodologies.
Mostafanezhad commits to developing cultural competency among her students, teaching students to connect formal learning in the classroom with informal and experiential knowledge outside the classroom. She provides opportunities to students through practices of informed mentorship, including: co-organizing annual student research symposiums; seeking student publication opportunities; co-publishing with students; and teaching the peer review process.
One student said, “Her seminars are more widely applicable than most; students are introduced to broad theoretical schools which can inform dissertation chapters and journal articles. It is a testament to her subject mastery—and her commitment to interdisciplinarity—that she can build such widely useful reading lists.”
Trenton Niemi, UH Maui College
Trenton Niemi is an anatomy and physiology instructor for the UH Maui College STEM department. Born in Minnesota, Niemi has always been called to the ocean.
His commitment and dedication to his students has been recognized by his colleagues and students. Students laud his ability to make difficult concepts understandable, which is commendable considering the challenging nature of the material (i.e., anatomy, physiology). Students reported that he was an inspiring teacher.
“[He] explains in multiple ways so that we truly understand the information and he is the best instructor I have ever had,” a student wrote.
He moved to Hawaiʻi more than 15 years ago and has taught with UH Maui College for 11 years, teaching PHYS 141 and 142 lectures and labs as well as for Kapiʻolani CC’s Emergency Medical Services Training program. In addition to his passion for teaching, Niemi’s interests include bodyboarding, weight lifting and photography. Some of his photography can be seen on the UH Maui College channel.
Wayde Oshiro, Leeward CC
Wayde Oshiro is an associate professor at Leeward CC where he serves as the interim learning commons and library coordinator. He is a collaborative leader who works hard to foster a student-centered learning environment, and is respected as an educator and leader by students, faculty, staff and community across the University of Hawaiʻi System.
Since 2015, Oshiro has served as one of the leaders of Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives for Leeward CC and UH Community Colleges. This initiative has promoted the adoption and supported the development of free OER textbooks and materials for many courses.
He has coordinated and facilitated training on OER for more than 150 instructors from across the seven UH Community College campuses, UH Hilo and UH West Oʻahu. This has resulted in total student savings across the UH Community Colleges of $8.7 million since spring 2015. At Leeward CC, 52% of all class sections use free course materials.
Oshiro has transformed the Leeward CC library, increasing productivity and patron satisfaction by implementing new technologies and operational strategies. He assumed additional responsibilities for the Learning Commons in 2020.
Scott Rowland, UH Mānoa
Scott Rowland is a faculty member in the Department of Earth Sciences in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. Among his colleagues, Rowland is viewed as being “the one faculty that all our students know and love, who leads by far the most field trips, a local born-and-raised bridge to the Native Hawaiian community.”
In his ERTH 104 course, he provides students opportunities to create a stone implement according to ancient Hawaiian methods while learning about stones from a western geological perspective. He strives to motivate each student, sparking their desire to learn on their own and pass on their knowledge.
His work ethic and unique teaching methods have inspired a recent student to become a teacher in the community upon graduating from UH. He described Rowland as going above and beyond the call as a college professor by visiting high schools to lead Earthquake Labs. Rowland is described as “truly the beating heart of the department’s undergraduate program while maintaining a strong research profile.”