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. Troy Andrade, Daniel Harris-Mcoy, Laurie James, Peiling Kao, Drew Kapp, Bryan Kim, Duke I. Lang, Kyra Anne Len, Alyssa MacDonald, Kevin Omuro, Gabriel David Peckham, Bridget Smith-Konter, Kevin Takayama, Bennett Zazzera and Wei Zhang received the award for 2022.
Troy Andrade, UH Mānoa
Troy Andrade is an associate professor of the William S. Richardson School of Law. He considers himself a direct beneficiary of the legacy of the heart and soul of the Ulu Lehua Scholars Program. Thirty-four prior and current Lehua Scholars write at length about feeling “privileged to call Professor Andrade our inspirational, exceptional, fearless director and leader.”
Andrade teaches courses in the areas of social justice lawyering, legal writing and Hawaiʻi’s legal history, “some of the most time intensive, rigorous and high impact courses at the law school.” His colleagues describe him as a generous, hardworking and professional spirit.
While incorporating traditional law teaching methods, he also tries to make the class accessible so students grasp the tremendous kuleana they must shoulder as future lawyers. One strategy Andrade utilizes is that students roleplay as judges or lawyers as an alternative to using traditional Socratic dialogue. He builds in assessment options throughout the semester rather than a single high stakes exam. He also takes his teachings off campus to resources and repositories available across the state.
Daniel Harris-McCoy, UH Mānoa
Daniel Harris-McCoy is an associate professor of classics in the College of Arts, Languages & Letters. He wants his students to develop a vision; to see their lives as a series of wonders, ideas and challenges to be solved.
He has developed a productive dialectical relationship between his research and teaching. In teaching the rhythmic nature of Latin verb endings, Harris-McCoy challenged a student-musician to set the endings to a hip-hop beat. Professor and student then recorded two albums to support teaching Latin and Greek. He speaks of an aesthetic of “juiciness” in academe to counter formal, overly rigid thought and behavior.
A student writes: “He engaged us all on our human levels; as I imagined ancient Greece was, a meeting of intellectuals as equals, learning from one other. I LOVED THIS CLASS!”
Harris-McCoy secured and refurbished a classroom to resemble a medieval scriptorium or Renaissance antiquarian study, enabling students to sit together accordingly, rather than in the typical campus classroom space.
Laurie James, UH West Oʻahu
Laurie James is an associate professor of math education at UH West Oʻahu. Since joining the education division in August 2016, she has become a co-facilitator of the Math Teachers’ Circle of Hawaiʻi (MaTCH) sessions that promote inquiry-based investigations, intrinsic motivation and hands-on pedagogical approaches. Professional educators participate in the MaTCH meetings multiple times each semester solving mathematical problems so they can anticipate where their students might struggle.
The award comes one year after James was selected for The Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (2021).
James’ students have stated she goes above and beyond. “If there are any questions or concerns, she is always willing to meet with her students before or after class to ensure we are confident in completing the assignments or tasks. During our lectures, she is always so positive and enthusiastic which makes the learning fun and engaging as well,” said one student.
Since 2017, James has collaborated in various STEM and robotics events. She helps to create student-friendly activities through mathematical challenges, the engineering design process, make-and-take stations and robotic quests.
Peiling Kao, UH Mānoa
Peiling Kao is an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance in the College of Arts, Languages & Letters. She is a working artist whose teaching is driven by a concept of embodied cognition: that while mind connects with body, body influences mind, and by integrating the complementary pedagogies of both Taiwan and the U.S.
Kao focuses on improvisational practice through movement rather than improvising with codified dance steps. This expands the inclusivity of her classes to anyone interested in exploring movement, and no previous dance experience is needed.
Students create unique and meaningful choreographies that go beyond entertaining and showcasing. They report that her “no mirror” classes truly liberate them to take risks and become aware of their space. Depending on the energy flow and responses she receives from students, she determines how to honor the original intentions of her materials while making in-the-moment changes to engage her students to develop movement and performance skills of mindfulness, clarity, articulation and subtlety.
A colleague credits her with significantly elevating the artistic level of the department’s student dance performances.
Drew Kapp, Hawaiʻi CC
Drew Kapp is an instructor of social sciences at Hawaiʻi Community College. An educator and a champion for student success, Kapp is known for his commitment to place-based learning, Native Hawaiian culture and sustainability. Students seek out his classes for the enriching experiences they provide, particularly the huaka‘i (field trips) Kapp leads to wahi pana (special places) around Hawaiʻi Island.
“As his student, I can’t emphasize enough how much I’ve learned on these place-based learning excursions about geography, Hawaiian culture, and even myself,” wrote one former student.
An innovative instructor, Kapp is dedicated to the design and implementation of outstanding undergraduate curricula. His “interest in course development is driven by his keen concern for his students,” a colleague wrote, “fostering in them a strong sense of place, while focused on the value of teaching excellence.”
Kapp is also regarded as a kind, dedicated colleague who inspires others through his active participation on campus committees and other aspects of campus life.
Bryan Kim, UH Hilo
Bryan Kim is the chair of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo division of social sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Dr. Kim demonstrates the best of what it means to be an inspirational professor, mentor and guide for future counseling psychologists,” said a student. “Not only is he firmly rooted in the rigor of research psychology, he is a compassionate, person-centered, ethical and experienced counselor who demonstrates in each class discussion the value of empathy, multi-cultural competence and constant scrutiny of one’s bias when serving the community.”
He joined UH Hilo’s Department of Psychology in 2006 as an associate professor and was promoted to full professor with tenure in 2008. From 2008 to 2020, Kim served as the director of the MA program in counseling psychology.
“Every week he is prepared and delivers a lecture that consistently introduces contextual nuance, history and current developments relating to the topic,” said another student. “He encourages lively conversation and discussion, reminding us that no topic is off limits and reflecting on what we all, including he, can learn from one another.”
Kim is also a licensed mental health counselor with the State of Hawaiʻi.
Duke I. Lang, Kauaʻi CC
Born and raised on Kauaʻi, Duke I. Lang has been a carpentry instructor at Kauaʻi Community College for nine years. He said he encountered disrespect during his educational journey, and, as a result, he decided, “If I am ever a boss or leader, I will never treat anyone under my supervision like I have been treated.”
Lang treats his students with great respect in a friendly atmosphere. He mentors and provides them with experiential learning activities. He has developed internship opportunities to bridge their education with practical, vocational industry experience, and established community partnerships to create seamless pathways for students to transition into the workforce.
He demonstrates leadership in planning, coordinating and supervising endeavors. Lang also works on various community projects in partnership with Kamehameha Schools and Habitat for Humanity. He guides Native Hawaiian students participating in the Kaiʻkaʻi Aʻo Projects, which enables them to succeed beyond the classroom.
These learning opportunities provide trade-based experience, and allow his students the chance to mālama their community. Lang clearly perpetuates the essence of aloha through his steadfast leadership and demonstration of kuleana (responsibility to his community), kokua (helping others) and haʻahaʻa (humility).
Kyra Anne Len, UH Mānoa
Kyra Anne Len is an associate professor of medical education and pediatrics at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. Len motivates and challenges students and residents to learn to care for patients, rather than merely treating ailments.
The launching of a new learning community curriculum provides an opportunity for deeper conversations among students, many who give testimony to having changed their field of practice entirely due to Len’s influence as their teacher and mentor. She diversifies the content and approach within each week to include presentations and seminars, workshops and bedside teaching with patients involved.
Beyond that, a colleague credits her with transforming the department through her many contributions. She has led innovative curriculum initiatives adopted by JABSOM and nationally, including a boot-camp for fourth year students and a “point-of-care” tool for pediatric diagnosis now available on phones. Len is credited with creating an environment that is growing clinically competent, culturally sensitive, professional leaders committed to serving their communities.
Alyssa MacDonald, Leeward CC
Alyssa MacDonald is an assistant professor in biology at Leeward Community College. She teaches several biology, zoology and aquaponics classes for the math and sciences division. She is an outgoing and passionate instructor who strives to make a difference in the lives of her students by providing real-world applications of the course material and guidance for their future careers.
Students find her teaching style engaging and commented on her kind demeanor. One student said, “She has a sense of duty, is committed to excellence, and encourages others to do the same. She is a highly sought-after instructor who does more than teach; she helps her students to achieve and instills confidence in learning that is carried over into all aspects of their lives. Professor MacDonald is highly dependable, considerate and respected by her students and her peers.”
MacDonald is the biology discipline coordinator and Marine Option Program coordinator for Leeward CC and works closely with local organizations to provide research and internship opportunities for students.
Kevin Omuro, UH Maui College
Kevin Omuro is a lecturer in dental hygiene at UH Maui College. He is a licensed dentist who has been practicing in Hawaiʻi since 1986.
As a lecturer, Omuro has taught many classes at UH Maui College including oral histology and embryology; pathology in dental hygiene and special patient populations; oral pathology in dental hygiene; applied pharmacology in dentistry; and clinical dental hygiene. Omuro’s passion is helping his students learn and watching them grow. He is always trying new ways to make his classes exciting and interesting.
Omuro’s students and colleagues commend him on his patience and commitment to helping students become the best hygienists that they can be. One student stated, “Dr. Omuro not only shows passion for teaching but has a drive to provide real world application for his students to strive in their careers. He goes above and beyond.”
Another student said, “He’s very understanding that we are all new to this… He teaches very hard subjects in a way that makes us understand them so easily.”
Gabriel David Peckham, Honolulu CC
Gabriel David Peckham is an instructor at Honolulu Community College and a proud graduate of UH Mānoa, where he earned his PhD in molecular biosciences and bioengineering. He often teaches challenging but essential courses such as anatomy and physiology.
Peckham has demonstrated a commitment to student-centered teaching. A student said they “felt more confident in my achieving career goals” after completing his class. Students also mentioned Peckham’s “cool approach to utilize mnemonic techniques to master the bone structure” and “well-designed experiments help us understand the relationship between cells, tissues, organs and systems.”
In addition to teaching, he is a strong advocate for undergraduate research. Peckham has been the principal investigator of a local biotechnology company and continues to be involved with numerous local and international groups including UH‘s Institutional Biosafety Committee and the Biosensor Journal board. He founded and self-published Kipaku Kai, a graphic novel.
Bridget Smith-Konter, UH Mānoa
Bridget Smith-Konter is a professor of geophysics in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is masterful at connecting with students of all academic interests, abilities, learning styles and personal backgrounds.
Her classes mix lectures with interactive Q&A sessions highlighted with stunning still or animated imagery, and punctuated with short videos and group activities. One student said “most noteworthy, she makes us feel like a valuable addition to a research team and as a human being in her life.”
Outside the classroom, “her contributions and influence on STEM education is truly extraordinary and may well be unmatched.” She leads by example and brings her heart into all her university and community projects. Her endeavors to “make Earth science accessible to underrepresented groups including Native Hawaiians are pertinent to an enriched and sustainable livelihood within Hawaiʻi.”
It is a testament to her quality as an educator that she can communicate scientific principles to a diverse group of people, effectively tailoring information and learning from her audience in return.
Kevin Takayama, Windward CC
Kevin Takayama is a mathematics instructor at Windward Community College. Students said Kevin Takayama is the ultimate encourager; the one who pushes them to always “Do [their] best.” There is no such thing as “I can’t” or “I give up.”
Focused on reaching all types of students, Takayama has taught Early College, Hawaiʻiloa and TRiO Summer Bridge. He piloted the first self-paced math course and eight-week accelerated model.
He excels in building relationships with his students and meeting their needs. Takayama has offered courses in all modes of instruction (even before COVID-19) such as online asynchronous and synchronous, hybrid and face-to-face.
One student said, “I went from dropping out of math senior year of high school to getting an A in math my very first semester in college, when I felt that I had no future in school and I thought I was going to fail. I am so thankful that I had Kevin Takayama my first semester of college because I can honestly say that he has changed my life. Since his class I have made the Dean’s List twice, joined Phi Theta Kappa and now have a 3.9 GPA.”
Bennett Zazzera, Kapiʻolani CC
Bennett Zazzera is an instructor and program director of the Kapiʻolani Community College Physical Therapist Assistant Program. He strives to create a learning environment that revolves around social interaction and active engagement. He feels that students’ beliefs about their intelligence can impact academic outcomes and that teachers’ expectations can be a motivational driving force to learning.
“My goal is to create a fun and safe classroom environment where all students feel confident and comfortable participating,” Zazzera said.
Students describe his classes as interactive, informative and challenging. They recognize his commitment to student success and his efforts to build an engaging class. One student wrote, “I can tell that he puts a lot of effort in preparing class materials and I just want to thank him for his work.”
Zazzera is a doctor of physical therapy, a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, and a doctoral student in the educational psychology program at UH Mānoa.
Wei Zhang, UH Mānoa
Wei Zhang is a professor in the Department of Sociology in the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences. Students describe her as an “inspiring professor” who “radiates genuine positivity and optimism that undeniably motivates us to cultivate our curiosity for learning and empowers us to aspire to attain our potential.”
Zhang views teaching as an adaptive process in response to constantly changing environments such as a pandemic or technological innovations, as well as students’ needs and interests.
Her colleagues hold her in very high esteem, one stating that she is a pillar of the department. Undergraduate students in her class make tremendous transformations from dreading statistics and formulas to finding she makes social statistics interesting and attainable. Graduate students develop into co-presenters and co-authors with Zhang.
In the words of one deeply grateful student, “This is the first time in a long time that I remembered how much fun I have learning and why I keep going to school.”