Three Recognized for Teaching Excellence

College of Letters and Sciences faculty to receive teaching awards

Award Winners

  • Alessa Johns
  • Dean Tantillo
  • Wrye Sententia

May 2, 2016 — Three faculty in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science are among the 11 award recipients to be honored for excellence in research, teaching and public service on campus on Monday, May 2. The Davis Division of the Academic Senate will present eight awards, and the Academic Federation will make three awards at the reception.


Distinguished Teaching Awards: Undergraduate

Alessa Johns

Alessa Johns

Professor Alessa Johns has established herself as one of the best loved, most valued and most effective teachers currently working in the English department.

Her area of specialization is 18th-century British literature. Johns consistently connects with the students by making the language and history immediate and accessible. Throughout evaluations, students refer to Johns’ passion for the field, her warmth, her approachability, her facility in encouraging class discussion, and her unstinting efforts to encourage their development as writers and thinkers.

Distinguished Teaching Awards: Graduate and Professional

Dean Tantillo

Dean Tantillo

Dean Tantillo, professor of chemistry, has developed new tools to make chemistry accessible to the next generation of students, disabled or otherwise. One of his doctoral students is blind, and, in order to make visualization of molecules a reality for the visually impaired, Tantillo uses a 3-D printer to print molecular structures. The experience of having a blind student in the group helps other group members to see chemistry from a new perspective. They are required to describe their research without reference to visual clues, and this trains students to be unambiguous scientific thinkers and communicators. Another of Tantillo’s students was profoundly deaf, and here the challenge was that all communication had to be purely visual — again forcing unambiguity and clarity. Tantillo is a passionate teacher, and he treats all of his students as respectfully as he would a colleague.

Excellence in Teaching

Wrye Sententia

Wrye Sententia

Wrye Sententia, a continuing lecturer, takes the initiative again and again to lead and excel in her roles as teacher, researcher, administrator and writer in the University Writing Program and in the UC Davis academic community. She is often the first to explore new research on teaching writing or student learning. She is also the first to share her experiences to open new spaces and opportunities for her colleagues and students. Her energetic and generous commitment to all students’ potential to learn and succeed is constant and inspiring. One of her students commented: “Her assigned coursework was so relevant for my goal of being a better writer that I was constantly excited to do homework.”

Sententia has undertaken substantial curriculum development and course design, pioneered new teaching technologies, given professional development workshops, and participated in public conversations about improving teaching and writing in the disciplines at UC Davis. She mentors former students as well as her present-day students. A colleague wrote: “She communicates competence and a teacher-student solidarity I’d sum up as, ‘We’re working together here.’” 

Reported by Dateline staff and UC Davis News Services. Read the full story.