Every student who has taken a class with UTSA chemistry Lecturer III Hector Aguilar will recognize these phrases:
"Don't worry about what you don't know; worry about what you do know and use it to the best of your best ability!"
"If you're going to be wrong, you might as well be confidently wrong!"
These are a few of many phrases Aguilar repeatedly uses in his classes to inspire, excite, and motivate his students. In Spanish, con ganas translates to "with passion or desire." By demonstrating the significance and implications of the subject being taught in a manner to which his students can relate, Aguilar is able to draw forth their deep desire to learn.
"There was a feeling of excitement in Hector's class," wrote UTSA chemistry Lecturer II Victoria Dougherty in her peer observation of Aguilar's Organic Chemistry I class. "The students were completely attentive. He did not lecture to the students, but rather, he conversed with them. I found that I was even getting excited as the lecture progressed, and could not wait to see what he did next. I did not see anyone who was not watching him the entire time."
It is precisely this exchange of energy, or symbiosis, between student and teacher that is the crux of his teaching philosophy.
"In my experience when I am enthusiastic, excited, and passionate about a subject that I am teaching, my students can quickly and easily recognize this," Aguilar shared. "In most cases, they feed off of this energy and become excited themselves. In return, I feed off of their energy and deliver even more enthusiastic lectures. We develop a symbiotic relationship. Similarly, I demand excellence from my students; therefore, I require the same from myself."
His end-of-semester speeches are rumored to move students to tears.
"He has a bond with his students that extends far beyond the classroom," shared biochemistry major Travis Menard. "He is famous within the UTSA chemistry community for many things, after all not many professors have t-shirts made about them."*
Aguilar is also known for learning the names of all of his students -- quite a feat when his classes include more than 70 students.
As one student eloquently stated, "For Dr. Aguilar, there are more than 24 hours in a day for his students."
It is not uncommon to see a steady stream of students lined up outside his office on the first floor of the Biological Sciences and Engineering building. He creates such a welcoming environment that his students often gather in his office, using his white board and table, for impromptu work sessions.
According to Waldemar Gorski, chair of the UTSA Department of Chemistry, "Hector is consistently trying to identify weaknesses in our students' knowledge and education and finds methods to improve them."
Once such improvement was the development of a "Chemical Writing" course, through which Aguilar has helped students significantly improve their scientific research and writing skills, including writing research proposals, curriculum vitae and personal statements.
Aguilar earned his Ph.D. from UTSA in 2013 with numerous accolades for his performance in research. He has chosen a career where research inspires learning. He focuses his research talents on teaching, and it certainly has paid off.
This summer, Aguilar was honored with a Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, the largest, most prestigious teaching award for faculty in the UT System.
“Hector’s inspiration of student excellence is foundational to student success and a model for his colleagues,” said George Perry, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences.
Story by K.C. Gonzalez
* At the end of the Fall 2015 semester, Aguilar's students designed at t-shirt as a token of appreciation for him. On the front is an organic chemistry joke that only Aguilar's students would get, and the back of the shirt lists his top ten sayings. Proceeds from purchases of the shirt were donated to the Corazon Clinic of San Antonio. In response, Aguilar contributed to the cause by purchasing a shirt for every student who made an "A" in his course.