History Professor Earns Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award

Dr. Monica Rankin

Dr. Monica Rankin

When Dr. Monica Rankin, associate professor of history, first traveled to Mexico as a high school student, she was hooked.

Rankin took that interest and transformed it into an award-winning passion. She recently earned the 2015 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, along with 79 other faculty members from across the UT System’s 15 institutions.  

“I find it incredibly rewarding to see the experiences that I had in Mexico and Latin America resonate with my students,” she said. “Especially when students come back after one or two semesters, that indicates to me that they have a deep appreciation for the region just like I do.”

Rankin, who has taught at UT Dallas for nearly a decade, specializes in Latin American history and is the director of the Center for U.S.-Latin America Initiatives.

“Monica applies her considerable intelligence, knowledge and eloquence to bear on a subject that is of the utmost importance to UT Dallas, the UT System, the state of Texas and the world,” said Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. “She makes complex issues of history and cultural interaction exciting, helping students to understand that complexity rather than simplifying it.”

Her first experience teaching was as a PhD student at the University of Arizona. She said that as a teaching assistant, she was encouraged to make her classroom interactive.

“We were coached from the very beginning to feed off of what would work for students to try and make adaptations based on each individual semester,” she said. “I found that to be a very comfortable style for me, and I’ve tried to take that into the classroom as the professor.”

Daniella Poole Mestyanek BA'09, a former student of Rankin’s, said she was fascinated from the first week of class. Mestyanek, who is currently a military intelligence officer, took five of Rankin’s classes — nearly one every semester.

She makes complex issues of history and cultural interaction exciting, helping students to understand that complexity rather than simplifying it.

Dr. Dennis Kratz,
dean of the School of Arts and Humanities

Mestyanek excelled in college and graduated with a 3.92 GPA, but she said she never liked taking tests. She appreciated that Rankin’s curriculum offered something different.

“I will never forget the class where she had all of the students sign up for Twitter accounts, and then used Twitter on the big screen to further classroom discussions amongst 100 plus students,” she said. “You can bet that students were willing to participate in that discussion.”

Dubbed “The Twitter Experiment,” Rankin’s novel approach delighted students when she first incorporated the social media platform into her course in 2009, with the help of ATEC alumna Kim Smith BA’08 MA’11.

Rankin said that there are many ways that instructors can take advantage of the fact that most students always have an electronic device on hand.

“I don’t want to fight it,” she said. “I think it’s something that’s here to stay, and I think we’re possibly in the midst of a change in people’s communication and learning styles. We owe it to ourselves as educators and to our students to figure out ways to deal with that in a way that’s constructive.”

Rankin is currently co-authoring a general textbook on Latin American history with a colleague from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. They are finishing the final chapters of the publication. 

She said one of her biggest goals as a professor is helping students see the relevance of what’s being taught and how to apply those lessons in their professional lives. 

“Most of my students won’t become professors of Mexican history, but my hope is that they’ll take something that they’ve learned about the history of Latin America or history in general and apply that to whatever career they choose to pursue,” she said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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