Dr. Anaid Yerena has been selected as the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award for the 2018–2019 school year.
Dr. Yerena is an assistant professor in the Urban Studies program who teaches various undergraduate and graduate courses at UW Tacoma that range from Movements and Organizing to Urban Studies in Practice. As an undergraduate, Yerena attended the Universidad de Monterrey and earned her bachelor’s degree in architecture. She earned her graduate degrees from the University of California, Irvine in Urban and Regional Planning, and Planning, Policy and Design.
The Distinguished Teaching Award is given to full-time faculty members or senior lecturers with a specific amount of teaching hours who demonstrate mastery of their subject matter, ability to engage diverse students both within and outside the classroom and who show originality in designing their courses.
Recipients of the award are nominated by students, faculty and alumni — similar to the UW’s Husky 100 recognition process. Nominations are reviewed by a committee chaired by the previous year’s award winner who assesses all submissions and documents submitted by nominees. Yerena explained that as part of the nomination, she submitted an essay and supporting documents that spoke to how her practice of teaching met the criteria that were being evaluated.
“The committee received the nominations, and then I got notified that I had been nominated,” Yerena said. “It [was then] my responsibility to submit an essay that spoke to how my practice of teaching met these different criteria. And then that [was] reviewed by the committee. The nomination [was] an invitation for me to apply. The nomination [did] not get [me] the award.”
After submitting the essay to the committee, Yerena learned that she had been selected for the award through a phone call and a letter from Dr. Jill Purdy — executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, and an email announcement.
One of the reasons that Yerena was selected was because of the way she has designed her courses. Rather than spend time on writing papers or giving students exams, Yerena aims to create a setting in her classes that differs from a traditional learning environment.
“I think it’s related to that notion that I like to create projects and make the classes less about writing papers, lectures, essays and exams,” Yerena said. “And that makes the learning environment more energetic for everyone.”
An example of a recent project was last quarter in her T URB 480: Housing in the United States course. Working with the Office of Student Advocacy and Support, students were expected to create an engaging video presentation about the Husky2Husky Homesharing program — available to all members of the community — that included data and facts related to housing issues in Tacoma and detailed information on how the program works. Students were then expected to present their video at two different on or off campus events.
“The goal was to raise awareness about the program,” Yerena said.
Yerena was also selected for her ability to engage students with the community within and outside of the classroom. In addition to having students work on projects, they also worked with a community partner with an end goal of being able to provide a service to the community partner or learn something that they hadn’t known before.
Speaking about the partnerships, Yerena explained that depending on the course and course level, she either lets the students pick their own community partner or selects one for them. The end result of working with members of the community is to help her students have a valuable learning experience and obtain an understanding of different professions.
“In some cases, I don’t pick the community partner,” Yerena said. “At the graduate level, students choose their own community partner. They are learning a skill of identifying a partner and coming to an agreement about what the partnership is going to be like. In other cases, I select the partners based on partners that I’ve worked with before and that I trust, to understand the demands that students have and that can provide a valuable learning experience. Because they [the community partners] are doing something in their profession that’s directly tied or related to what the students are learning about … I try to bring the profession into the classroom.”
Yerena sees being selected as an honor and is motivated to continue the work that she has started at UWT. She is grateful for having supportive colleagues and is proud of her students, whose work she views as the highlights of her teaching.
“[I feel] very honored, very happy …,” Yerena said. “I feel encouraged and motivated to keep doing what I’m doing and do more of it … To me, it means that the passion, intentionality and care I bring to my practice as an instructor is coming through to others … It’s like I’m putting a message out there and somebody is receiving it… I would love for people to know I’m really proud of my students, that I love UWT and that I’m happy to have found [a way that I can] inspire others in their professional paths.”