UCLA Extension on Nov. 2 recognized this year’s cohort of outstanding educators with its annual Instructor Excellence Awards. Dean Eric Bullard welcomed faculty, staff and administrators to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion to honor 13 instructors he said were among the “best of the best” from across the institution.
“We’re so pleased to be honoring these instructors for everything they do working with our students and our organization,” Bullard said.
Selected from the roughly 1,200 instructors who lead courses at UCLA Extension each year, the 2023 awardees included teachers of both online and in-person classes. In her opening remarks, Associate Dean Leah Vriesman said this year’s cohort of awardees illustrated the diversity and quality of the institution’s programming.
“All of our awardees have committed time outside of their professional lives to helping students of all ages start new careers or develop the ones they already have,” said Vriesman.
In a video testimonial shown during the ceremony, the award-winning instructors shared their perspectives on the value and importance of teaching in continuing education. Scott Edwards, who received the award for entertainment studies, said becoming an instructor was a “gesture of gratitude” toward the teachers who inspired him when he was in school.
“I value those experiences. I loved them while they were happening and I use that education everyday,” Edwards said. “(Teaching) is an opportunity to say thanks and, maybe while we’re at it, pay it forward.”
For Jeanmarie “JM” Gibis, who was recognized for her work as an instructor with UCLA Extension’s project management certificate program, continuing education is about both professional and personal growth.
“I’ve seen people take classes just to advance in their career, to learn new technologies, trends and best practices, and it’s made all the difference in their lives,” Gibis said. “I’m just happy to be part of that journey with them.”
Directors from 13 UCLA Extension program areas were on hand to present the awards. Varaz Shahmirian, an associate dean and department director for engineering and digital technology, noted the importance of taking time to honor instructors each year.
“This is the greatest award that UCLA Extension offers,” said Shahmirian.
Several of the night’s speakers reflected on UCLA Extension’s emphasis on helping students develop tools to meet employer’s needs, whatever field they’re in.
“This isn’t theoretical, it’s practical, hands-on, boots-on-the-ground experience, and I think that’s helped me to become a really good teacher and instructor,” said Cyndy McDonald, who received the award for UCLA Extension’s college counseling program.
Vriesman echoed that sentiment, noting that UCLA Extension instructors have to be “highly adaptable” in order to stay ahead of changes in the industries in which they teach.
“Our instructors and faculty are saying to the non-traditional learner: How can we help you advance your career, your life and your work through what we do in teaching?” said Vriesman. “These instructors are committed to teaching excellence, and that is part of what UCLA is all about.”The 2023 Instructor Excellence Awards were presented to: John Beach, Visual Arts; Adisa Cartwright, Medical Assistant Program and Patient Advocacy; Bianca Cung, Digital Technology; Jeanne De Vita, Writers’ Program; Scott Edwards, Entertainment Studies; Jeanmarie "JM" Gibis, Project Management Certificate Program; Mark Lewison, Architecture and Interior Design; Peter Lou, Finance and Organizational Management; Cyndy McDonald, College Counseling; Kimberly Persiani, Education, Humanities and Social Sciences; Vicki Pontius, Teacher Education; David Squires, Landscape Architecture; and Lauren Stienstra, Emergency Management Program.