Since Amy Austin, assistant professor of instruction in Spanish, can’t take her students to Spain every day for class, she said it’s important to make language come alive and bring Spain to her students.
“Any time that we are preparing our students in the classroom, we’re preparing them to be global citizens,” Austin said. “It’s not only educating them, but teaching them how to educate others on the different nuances of culture.”
Austin was recently one out of 27 faculty members from all University of Texas institutions to be recognized by the UT System Board of Regents on Aug. 14 in Austin, Texas, where she received The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.
The award is presented to UT educators who best exemplify excellence, innovation and commitment to student success, according to the UT System website. Each recipient is given a certificate, a medallion and $25,000 in recognition of their impact on students and their institutions.
“To have an external recognition of something that I value over everything in my career, which is teaching students, it provides me with motivation to do more great things,” Austin said.
At UTA, each college nominates one tenure stream faculty and one nontenure stream faculty for The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, said Antoinette Sol, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, in an email. Then a committee of faculty who have won the award in the past meet to decide who the university’s candidates will be.
Austin has been at UTA since 2007. She was named a Delta Alpha Omega Recognized Professor in December 2015 and received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in December 2018.
“This is a teacher who makes a difference for student success at all levels,” Sol said.
Austin said she has always loved language, but she was particularly inspired by a medieval literature professor she had during her study abroad in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
While reading a 13th century text about a weary pilgrim who crawls the last steps of his journey and shouts ‘la catedral!’ when he sees the spires of a cathedral, Austin’s teacher pointed out the classroom window to the cathedral Austin had passed every day on her way to class — the same cathedral the pilgrim had seen.
“That was the moment medieval literature came alive for me,” Austin said.
She said she wants to do the same for her students.
During his freshman year at UTA, Matías Ortiz, modern languages graduate student, took an introductory Spanish literature class where Austin encouraged him to pursue language in academia. Ortiz said he originally intended to double major in business and Spanish for global competence.
“Dr. Austin has probably been the most influential person that I’ve met at UTA,” Ortiz said. “And for sure one of the most influential teachers I’ve had — period.”
Though Ortiz said he grew up loving literature, he thought he had to go into finance to make money. He is now planning on getting a doctorate, teaching at a university and doing research.
Ortiz said Austin took him under her wing and mentored him through the process of having a paper read at a research convention, something he said would become a focus in his future career in academia.
“As a freshman on campus campus, you really don’t feel that you have that [connection] with very many professors yet,” Ortiz said. “Right off the bat, to have somebody who is that open and willing to help me just really gave me reassurance.”
Michelle Carone, linguistics and Spanish senior, said during Austin’s courses, lessons often went beyond the book.
Carone said Austin assigned projects where students had to create an object that represents or symbolizes sociological concepts relevant to Spanish culture.
In Austin’s Spanish culture and civilization class, she said students used the FabLab to make objects that solve cultural problems in Spain. Her students created a soccer jersey that symbolized the three religious cultures in Spain: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The names of historical figures from each culture were printed on the back.
“I think one of my main goals is to get students to be lifelong learners,” Austin said. “I hope it will change the way they view the world.”