Joseph Rabinoff and Matthew Torres are two of Georgia Tech’s 2018 CTL/BP Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award winners. Jointly supported by the Center for Teaching and Learning and BP America, the award recognizes the excellent teaching and educational innovation that junior faculty bring to campus.
JOSEPH RABINOFF: Helping both students and faculty
Joseph Rabinoff was recently promoted to associate professor in the School of Mathematics. Because many undergraduates take the fundamental mathematics courses he teaches, Rabinoff has had a broad impact on Georgia Tech undergraduates.
Students say Rabinoff makes mathematics relevant and engaging, especially the introductory classes he teaches. For his part, Rabinoff seeks to ensure that all students, whatever their majors, understand and even appreciate the material.
Rabinoff was heavily involved in developing the curriculum and course materials for Math 1553, Introduction to Linear Algebra. This is an engineering core course that is taken by thousands of Georgia Tech students every year. He created lecture slides, interactive demonstrations, and online homework problems. With colleague Dan Margalit, Rabinoff wrote a free online textbook for the course, “Interactive Linear Algebra.”
Beyond the classroom, Rabinoff spearheaded the creation of the School of Mathematics’ course repository and has been the main contributor to its infrastructure and content. The repository contains up-to-date curated materials that a new teacher can just pick up and use.
The students are the most exciting part about being at Georgia Tech, Rabinoff said in a 2016 Q&A. “Some students are extremely hard-working and talented. I derive a lot of pleasure from interactions in class and office hours,” he said.
In turn, students praise Rabinoff for his enthusiasm, engaging lectures, friendliness, accessibility, and, yes, his “super” “Rabinoffice” hours, which one students says “are fantastic during exam weeks.”
“It is an honor to be recognized with this award,” Rabinoff says. “The students I see every week in class and in office hours are great kids, and all of the effort is for them. Pedagogy is special in this way: The reward is not abstract; it is visible every time I see in a student's face that a light went on in their head. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach in a place like Georgia Tech.”
MATTHEW TORRES: Teaching life skills
Matthew Torres also was recently promoted to associate professor, in the School of Biological Sciences. Although he always knew he would be a scientists, he never thought about being a teacher. At Georgia Tech he has recognized that, “first and foremost,” he is a teacher.
Having embraced the role of an educator, his dedication is obvious to students and colleagues. Students regard him not only as an excellent teacher, but also as someone who believes in them and sees their potential. Students say Torres’s mentorship goes beyond biology: Torres helps them develop critical skills that will serve them throughout their lives – such as written and spoken scientific communication, self-reflection, and how to confront failure productively.
Colleagues say Torres is a natural teacher, taking every opportunity to teach and mentor students in Georgia Tech and beyond. He gives students personal attention and invests time and resources to ensure student learning. A colleague describes Torres as “dedicated, caring, thoughtful, and highly successful in both teaching and research.”
Torres regularly invites undergraduates to do research in his lab, participating in work to address chemical biology questions that Torres’s research seeks to answer. These undergraduates are listed as coauthors on publications. In running his lab and in his teaching, Torres instills open communications and mutual respect as values that advance everyone’s progress.
Community engagement is important to Torres. He has volunteered to mentor high school students from the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. He routinely gives laboratory tours to local high schools focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
“Winning this award is fantastic, but I’m also very lucky,” Torres says. “Lucky enough to have had wonderful students – undergraduate, graduate, and beyond – willing to join me on a journey in pursuit of greater understanding and scientific progress. Such a journey can’t happen because of a teacher alone – it takes bright, receptive, and brave students to help guide the way.”