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Commitment to Students, Craft Defines Newest Piper Professor
May 30, 2019
Few people have influenced how teachers teach at The University of Texas at Dallas as much as Dr. Karen Huxtable-Jester.
Dr. Karen Huxtable-Jester
A senior lecturer on the faculty of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) for two decades, Huxtable-Jester has accumulated a catalog of accolades from within UT Dallas and beyond. In May, she added to that list with her selection as a 2019 Piper Professor by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation, which honors the best professors across Texas.
The award, established in 1958, recognizes 10 educators annually for their dedication to their profession and for their outstanding academic, scientific and scholarly achievement. The foundation’s emphasis is to ensure access to education for financially limited but worthy students at Texas colleges.
“Success for every student is a goal that is well within our reach,” Huxtable-Jester said, “and compassionate, responsive teaching will help us to achieve that goal.”
Huxtable-Jester has taught educational, social and developmental psychology at UT Dallas since 2000 and has served as the associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) since its founding in 2016. She also has been chair of the University’s Committee on Effective Teaching for the past five years.
“Most fundamentally, Dr. Huxtable-Jester is an outstanding classroom instructor,” said Dr. Paul F. Diehl, Ashbel Smith Professor of political science, associate provost and CTL director. “Not only has she made a deep and lasting impact on her own students, but she has also influenced many other UT Dallas students through her service in training other faculty members in effective pedagogy through her expertise in educational psychology.”
“She is a deserving honoree in light of her long service to the University and the multifaceted ways that she has touched so many students’ lives, as well as the myriad ways she helps make other faculty members and graduate students better teachers. ”
In discussing her teaching philosophy, Huxtable-Jester said that course policies should never present additional obstacles for students to overcome.
“Providing flexibility in how students meet course requirements is not about lowering standards — it is about making sure that success is within the grasp of all students,” she said. “By valuing teachers, the Piper Foundation is valuing students.”
Huxtable-Jester received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2005 and the Seniors’ Choice Award in 2009 from BBS, as well as the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2013 from The University of Texas System Board of Regents. She also was inducted in 2017 as a fellow of the UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers and is one of only two non-tenure system faculty members from across the state elected to the elite group.
“Dr. Huxtable-Jester is innovative in the classroom and is truly passionate about fostering student success,” said Dr. Shayla Holub, associate professor and area head for psychological sciences in BBS. “She has high expectations for students and masterfully scaffolds their learning and development with her enthusiasm, insight, compassion, and, most importantly, her optimism that they will succeed regardless of the challenges she provides.”
Understanding Students’ Obstacles
Huxtable-Jester asks her new students each semester what they wish professors understood about them. She hears two particular answers every time.
“The overwhelming answer is that they wish professors understood the multiple conflicting obligations they face outside of their classes — jobs, families, debt — and the struggle it takes just to be in school,” she said. “The second most common answer is, ‘I wish my professors understood that I truly want to learn.’”
Those answers pose questions about teaching styles and attitudes that Huxtable-Jester believes faculty members must answer for themselves.
“I’ve redesigned my courses to give all students multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned, to benefit from improvement, and to learn for the sake of learning rather than just getting by or being penalized by arbitrary restrictions or inflexible deadlines,” she said. “All of my course policies and practices are designed to help students be successful learners.”
Each Piper Professor holds that title for life and receives a certificate of merit, a gold pin and a $5,000 honorarium. Selection is made on the basis of nominations from two- and four-year colleges and universities across the state.
Past UT Dallas recipients include Dr. John Sibert, associate professor of chemistry, and Dr. Theresa Towner, Ashbel Smith Professor of literary studies, who were chosen in 2015 and 2018, respectively.
Diehl characterized Huxtable-Jester as representing the “best of the best” in her profession.
“She is a deserving honoree in light of her long service to the University and the multifaceted ways that she has touched so many students’ lives, as well as the myriad ways she helps makes other faculty members and graduate students better teachers,” he said.