July 29, 2014
Award-Winning Chemistry Teacher Stresses Tools in Finding Answers
June 27, 2014
Dr. Mihaela Stefan
Dr. Mihaela Stefan received the President’s Outstanding Teaching Award at the recent Honors Convocation ceremony. The annual award recognizes a tenured or tenure-track faculty member for his or her efforts in teaching and mentoring. As part of the honor, Stefan received a medallion and a cash award.
Stefan, an associate professor of chemistry, has taught in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics since 2007. She said she enjoys teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses, and that organic chemistry is one of her favorites. Among students, organic chemistry has a reputation of being one of the hardest courses.
“It’s not always easy to convince the students how beautiful organic chemistry actually is,” Stefan said. “But when you do reach that point, it’s amazing because students start to realize that so many of life’s processes involve organic chemistry, and they truly build an appreciation of the field.”
Stefan’s efforts and successes in teaching were reflected in comments on students’ nominations for the award, which is one of the University’s highest accolades for faculty.
“Stefan is one of the best professors that I have had at UTD. She truly cares for her students in a way that I have never seen,” one student wrote. “She is willing to work around her students’ schedules and teaches in a manner that has truly made me love organic chemistry.”
“It’s not always easy to convince the students how beautiful organic chemistry actually is. But when you do reach that point, it’s amazing because students start to realize that so many of life’s processes involve organic chemistry, and they truly build an appreciation of the field.”
Influenced by her education in Romania — where she said her professors were aloof and closed off from students — Stefan said she decided to adopt an open-door policy that she encourages her students to use.
As a chemical engineer, Stefan said she is trained to solve problems. In real life, problems are complicated and do not always come with clear choices. That belief is reflected in her tests, which are not multiple-choice. Stefan instead focuses on providing students with the tools and know-how to find solutions for questions.
“I don’t believe you can make something easy because you fear that if it is too complicated you’re not going to be able to handle it,” Stefan said. “UT Dallas students are very brilliant. I find if you give them the tools, they can fix it — so I challenge my students.”
And the students get it. Her nominations for the award speak volumes.
“Most importantly, she loves her students and loves teaching,” one student wrote. “She understands the importance of a teacher in the process of education. Without a doubt, Stefan demonstrates excellence in her teaching, producing excellence in her students!”