Best Teacher Awards
Seven outstanding teachers to be honored at the 2020 Best Teacher Awards
by Tony Phifer
published Feb. 26, 2020
Each year, students, faculty and alumni nominate the teachers who’ve inspired them and made an impact in their lives for the Best Teacher Awards.
Organized by the Colorado State University Alumni Association, event tickets are available — $5 for students, $15 for Alumni Association members and $20 for nonmembers. Tickets include a plated dinner and dessert.
2020 Best Teacher Award Recipients
Andrea Rice Purdy, Ph.D.
College of Liberal Arts
Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Andrea Rice Purdy is an associate professor of Spanish and has been on faculty at CSU for 20 years. Encouraged by her mother to pursue a career in teaching, the Mexico native reluctantly walked into her first classroom-teaching experience while pursuing her master’s degree – and was immediately hooked. She teaches several Spanish courses, specializing in reading and writing skills, as well as translation and interpretation. Her background was instrumental in helping to establish a semester-long education abroad program at the CSU Todos Santos Center in Baja California Sur, Mexico, that gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in Mexican culture. She also has been involved with the Rams Without Borders program, working on water projects with students in El Salvador.
“During our first week (at the CSU Todos Santos Center), she took her free time to speak and personally check on each and every one of us. She is the only staff member at CSU that I trust with my whole heart and life. She genuinely cares for students and their well-being. Whether it be my course work or in my daily life, Dr. Purdy has made such an impact on my life in such a short amount of time. With Dr. Purdy, there are no wrong answers or mistakes – only opportunities to grow.”
—Kara Copeland (’20)
College of Natural Sciences
Department of Chemistry
Benjamin Reynolds is an assistant teaching professor and the general chemistry laboratory coordinator in the Department of Chemistry. He joined CSU’s faculty in 2000 and oversees teaching five chemistry lab courses with an annual enrollment of 4,000 students. He also teaches two online lab courses and a graduate teaching-methods course. He created the Chemistry Learning Resource Center in 2014, providing support for students while implementing teaching training/orientation programs for chemistry graduate teaching assistants. He’s also a faculty adviser for CSU’s Chemistry Club.
“Ben inspired me by showing that there are people working within the University who do their absolute best to provide the best environment and learning opportunities for their students. He has also inspired me to consider the academic side of chemistry by demonstrating that there are roles (in academia) that are not directly teaching students, (but still) impact students’ lives.”
—Jacob Neuwirth (’20)
Brian Geiss, Ph.D.
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology
Brian Geiss, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology, came to CSU in 2005 as a researcher and joined the faculty in 2010. He helped establish the master’s program in microbiology and immunology and offers life lessons beyond laboratory and textbook learning so that graduates are prepared to succeed in the field. He’s also been a respected researcher throughout his career and continues to work in the lab, searching for new answers to existing problems.
“Dr. Geiss focuses on not only the intellectual development of his students but also their professional development. He helps them network to find jobs/positions and brings in community scientists from various industries to interface with the class. In this fashion, Dr. Geiss prepares his students to be well-rounded and effective members of the community that can give back. I’ve also seen students comment on how they want to continue the altruism that Dr. Geiss displays when they establish their careers. The fact that students want to emulate a teacher’s behavior/commitment is the ultimate ‘thank-you,’ in my opinion.”
—Dr. Jeffrey Wilusz, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology
KuoRay Mao, Ph.D.
College of Liberal Arts
Department of Sociology
KuoRay Mao is an assistant professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts. A native of Taiwan, Mao moved to the United States when he was 17, and thanks to encouragement and support from undergraduate professors in California, he decided to become a researcher and teacher. He has won numerous honors for his research, especially for projects in China. He is an official consultant of Green Camel Bell, a grassroots environmental organization in the Gansu province helping residents deal with destructive environmental practices. He received the 2016 Outstanding Emerging Scholar Award from the Western Social Sciences Association and the Best Journal Article Award from the American Society of Criminology Division on Critical Criminology and Social Justice in 2019.
“Dr. Mao always wants his students to succeed. He cares for their future not for himself, but because he believes his students have the ability to improve our world. I still think about some of the discussions and lectures Dr. Mao gave in his class. Almost all of them were about class material, but some of the most profound and memorable ones were about our futures. To call Dr. Mao inspirational is a severe understatement – he made me excited for my future.”
—Alexander Hall (’18)
Maria Elena Puig, Ph.D.
College of Health and Human Sciences
School of Social Work (retired)
Maria Elena Puig retired after 17 years as an associate professor in the School of Social Work. The native of Cuba spent 20 years working in the field as a social work practitioner and administrator, including a stint as director of refugee services and entrant services for Miami/Dade County in Florida. She then decided to put her experience to use in higher education, joining CSU’s School of Social Work faculty in 1996 and offering students knowledge beyond theories and textbook principles. She served on numerous CSU committees, including the CSU Commission on Women and Gender Equity, the CHHS Diversity Committee, and Faculty Council, and she helped launch CSU’s Master of Social Work program in 2013. She was honored by the College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project before retiring.
“Maria was passionate about developing her students, not just as social work professionals but as community members and world citizens. Maria always encouraged us to look outside of our own immediate community to the world at large. She was an advocate for vulnerable populations, such as refugees, and always brought that experience to her classes.”
—Gina Myers (’08)
Mark E. Uchanski, Ph.D.
College of Agricultural Sciences
Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
Mark Uchanski, an associate professor of horticulture, grew up west of Chicago and fell in love with home vegetable gardening before turning his passion into a career. He arrived at CSU in 2015 to serve as Specialty Crops Program coordinator, where he works on vegetable and other specialty crops while researching sustainable and organic practices. He helped establish the CSU Student Education Garden in 2016, just south of campus, which was certified organic shortly thereafter. The garden is now home to the student apiary beehives, Aggie Village community gardens, and the Everybody Eats Garden, which helps alleviate student hunger. In addition to teaching a variety of horticulture courses, he is part of the CSU Extension network.
“Dr. Uchanski demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to CSU and his students, both undergraduate and graduate. He is the most passionate and engaging teacher I’ve had in my 20-plus years of education. He has a great ability to bring the real world into the classroom, which helps bring learning and education out into the real world. He has an open-door policy and makes sure to meet every student ‘where they are at’ in their journey.”
—Brian Mitchell (graduate student, ’22)
Dr. William H. Hanneman
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences
Dr. William Hanneman, a professor of toxicology in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, died July 28, 2019, after a battle with cancer. He had been on faculty since 1999 and worked to enhance the already-sterling reputation of CSU’s world-renowned toxicology department. A highly respected teacher, Hanneman also helped establish and served as director of CSU’s Center for Environmental Medicine, which further enriched CSU’s standing as a leader in the field.
“Dr. Hanneman was a great mentor, role model, and educator. He worked hard to ensure his students left the classroom ready and equipped for the world outside. He did an amazing job of engaging students in discussions and giving them the confidence needed to be leaders in the classroom. We all left his classroom better people, well-versed scientific equals, and better prepared for life.”
—Mandy Gill (’19)