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UTSA biology professor Aaron Cassill is named 2013 Piper Professor

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Aaron Cassill

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(May 1, 2013) -- Aaron Cassill cannot remember a time when he didn't want to be a teacher, and was fortunate to have great role models beginning in elementary school. From each, he learned values that would shape his own teaching style. But, he credits his high school physics and chemistry teachers with instilling in him one simple philosophy that has guided his own success as a professor of science: If you're going to teach science, you have to be excited about it.

"A lot of what I try to do is make it clear to [students] that the science they're studying actually affects them in very important ways every day -- and that it's actually really cool."

A professor of biology in the College of Sciences, Cassill was selected as a recipient of the 2013 Piper Professor Award. The award established by the San Antonio-based Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation in 1958 annually recognizes 10 college professors in Texas for their academic, scientific and scholarly achievement.

He is the ninth UTSA faculty member to receive the award, following John Miller Morris, professor of geography, who was recognized last year.

"Aaron Cassill has a reputation across the university for his strong commitment to student success, both as an instructor and as a mentor," said John Frederick, provost and vice president of academic affairs. "We are thrilled to see him recognized and especially to have members of our faculty recognized by the Piper Foundation for two consecutive years. I believe that is a strong testament to the excellence of our entire faculty."

Born to two artists in Cleveland, Ohio, Cassill was raised in an environment of creativity and exploration; for him, that wonder and sense of discovery turned to the scientific world. When he was in high school, Cassill would ride his bicycle to the house of a family friend, a physics professor, to ask questions about "how the world worked." He earned his B.A. at Harvard University and his Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego, before accepting a faculty position at UTSA in 1993.

Cassill regularly offers the courses Principles of Molecular Biology, Contemporary Biology, Genetics, and the Honors Colloquium, "Science and Psychology of Everyday Life," which he teaches with his wife, psychology professor Mary McNaughton-Cassill.

His courses always are among the most popular at UTSA.

Writes one former student: "Every night, I could see the seats filled with smiling, eager faces because this was not just a lecture, but a discussion. Dr. Cassill would take the time to let us talk; his lessons would always spark questions from curious students, not because he had not explained a concept well, but because he inspired us to think outside the box."

When teaching biology, Cassill seeks to emphasize the complexity of life and encourage his students to traverse beyond the course's basic material. In his lectures, he makes the daunting details of biology accessible, draws relevant parallels between science and everyday life, and shares the mistakes and failures of some of the most exalted scientists to drive home his point that all great discoveries are realized through determination and curiosity rather than inherent genius.

"What I actually want them to do is to understand that there's no such thing as a known fact; everything is fluid," Cassill explains. "In a lot of ways, I want them to distrust knowledge and to trust themselves, and learn to think and rethink everything I tell them and see whether I was right or not."

Cassill's enthusiasm for teaching is not limited to the subject matter, but the art of pedagogy itself. He has participated in numerous education conferences, mentored several colleagues across disciplines on curriculum and course development, and is constantly pushing himself to innovate and experiment with his own craft. Among his numerous accolades, he earned a Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System in 2012, and earlier this year, he was inducted into UTSA's Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars.

His popularity stems not just from his captivating classroom lessons, but also his humor, kindness and approachability. His collaborations with students have produced numerous co-publications of research and scholarly papers. He is the director of the STEM Initiative for the College of Sciences and also associate director of the Minority Access to Research Careers and the Minority Biomedical Research Support programs.

"Dr. Aaron Cassill is an invaluable asset to the college," said College of Sciences Dean George Perry, "as he provides both a high level of superior instruction for our students in critical classes, and outstanding leadership in outreach to the community, to help generate future scientists our state so desperately needs."

 

 

Events
Feb. 13, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

29th annual Asian Festival - Year of the Monkey

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures invites Texas and Texans to the Asian Festival. What began as a traditional family reunion for the Chinese New Year has expanded to include other Asian communities and participants, showcasing their unique culture and traditions.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Feb. 13, 1 p.m.

2016 Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium

Join the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in celebrating interdisciplinary inquiry at the 2016  Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium.  The colloquium will include a panel of faculty and recent doctoral graduate and a showcase of the best IDS undergraduate inquiry projects of the year 2015. The event is free and open to the public.
Business Building (BB 2.06.04), UTSA Main Campus

Feb. 15, 6 - 8 p.m.

Veterans' Networking Mixer

The intent of this event is to connect student veterans with employers who are seeking to provide advice and potentially recruit driven, skilled and equipped candidates for their organizations. This is an exciting opportunity to network and meet with seasoned professionals who will assist and guide you in transitioning into your next career move.
Wyndam Garden Riverwalk Hotel

Feb. 16, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m.

S.T.E.M. Career Fair

Are you looking for career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math? Come to the SPRING 2015 STEM Career Fair. Recruiters from across the STEM fields will be present with full-time, part-time and/or internship opportunities. Professional dress is required. Bring plenty of resumes! Download the UTSA Career Fair Plus App on iOS and Android.
Convocation Center, Main Campus

Feb. 16, 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

Spring 2016 All Majors Career & Internship Fair

Come to the Spring 2016 All Majors and Internship Career Fair. Recruiters from across all industries will be present with full-time or internship opportunities. Professional Dress is Required. Bring plenty of resumes! Download the UTSA Career Fair Plus App on iOS and Android.
Convocation Center, Main Campus

Feb. 17, 5:30 p.m.

CACP Speaker Series continues with Cesar Pelli

The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning (CACP) welcomes renowned architect Cesar Pelli as part of the CACP’s 2015-16 Speaker Series. Pelli is founder and Senior Principal of the New Haven, Conn. firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. In his talk, “Becoming an Architect,” Pelli will present and discuss projects that were critical steps in his career.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m.

African-American Social Welfare Pioneers Responding to Community Needs

The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Carlton-LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 7 p.m.

Presentation and Book Signing with Luis Carlos Montalvan

Please join us for a presentation and book signing by Luis Carlos Montalván (Fmr. Capt., USA), author of the New York Times Bestseller Until Tuesday and the international award-winning childrens book Tuesday Tucks Me In. His books will be available for purchase at the UTSA Bookstore. This event is free and open to the public.
Southwest Room (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus

Feb. 25, 6 p.m.

12th Annual Black Heritage Gala

The 12th Annual Black Heritage Gala is a formal event which includes a student performance, keynote remarks by Michael Brown, an award presentation, dinner and dancing. Tickets are $10 for UTSA students and $15 for all other guests. Tickets are on sale now at Roadrunner Express. Contact (210) 458-4770 for more information.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom, Main Campus

Feb. 27, 9 a.m.

Cultural Contrasts in Latin America

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will host a free workshop focusing on teaching Latin American culture and geography for students seeking their teacher certification. The workshop includes free resources for teaching Latin American subject matter as well as presentations on language, identity, music, geography, and political and developmental history, and a special educators’ tour of the museum’s Los Tejanos exhibit. Free with registration.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC 3.01.02)


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