Saturday, August 01, 2015

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."

 

 

Did You Know?

UTSA researcher is a star behind the cloud

A revolution in cloud computing is underway, and Ravi Sandhu believes it will be much bigger than the PC and Internet revolutions that have already changed the way we live. Sandhu, director of the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security, says UTSA is taking a leadership role in tackling three fundamental cloud technology problems: how to build and operate the cloud, how to use it profitably for diverse applications and how to keep it secure.

Sandhu, the Lutcher Brown Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security in the College of Sciences, and Ram Krishnan, assistant professor of electrical engineering in the UTSA College of Engineering, are funded by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve cloud security.

Did you know? Sandhu, a world-renowned cybersecurity expert, holds 30 patents, has authored more than 250 papers and been cited more than 30,000 times.

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Events
Aug. 1, 9 p.m.

"Inside Peace" documentary screening

This documentary, presented by the San Antonio Film Festival, documents the experience of re-entry after incarceration. The film features Michael Gilbert, associate professor in the department of criminal justice and director of the Office of Community and Restorative Justice program at UTSA.
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle

Aug. 4, 6 - 8 p.m.

Free Teacher Tuesday: Los Tejanos Workshop

Discover resources and strategies for teaching Tejano history and culture and get a special educator's tour of the new long-term exhibit, Los Tejanos.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.

Aug. 6, 5 - 7 p,m,; 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

6th Annual Texas Higher Education Symposium

This annual symposium is an opportunity to discuss Texas higher education issues and trends with Texas higher education scholars, state and local government officials, students, and campus and local community members.
Downtown Campus

Aug. 9, 12 - 5 p.m.

Vaquerocation 2015

This cowboy-themed programming, offered in conjunction with Our Kids Magazine's Kidcation Week, gives families the opportunity to visit with cowboy docents, enjoy readings and visit activity tables.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.

Aug. 17, 11:30 p.m.

Midnight Light

Join President Ricardo Romo, The Spirit of San Antonio Marching Band, students, faculty and staff to light the monument at the Main Campus entrance at the stroke of midnight.
John Peace Boulevard Entrance, Main Campus

Aug. 18, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

President's BBQ on the Plaza

Join university President Ricardo Romo on the Bill Miller Plaza for his annual free BBQ lunch.
Bill Miller Plaza, Downtown Campus

Aug. 18, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

President's BBQ on the Lawn

Join university President Ricardo Romo on the Convocation Center lawn for his annual free BBQ lunch.
Convocation Center East Lawn, Main Campus

Aug. 22, 6 p.m.

UTSA Alumni Gala

The UTSA Alumni Association hosts this annual gala honoring the Alumna of the Year, Alumnus of the Year and the Alumnus of the Year Lifetime Achievement award winners.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, 9800 Hyatt Resort Dr.


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