Dr. Asha Rao, an instructional assistant professor of biology, has been recognized with the 2020 Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Award, the most prestigious faculty honor bestowed by Texas A&M University in recognition of classroom performance.
Rao, who is the first recipient in the Texas A&M Department of Biology‘s history, joins Dr. Claire Katz, professor of philosophy and Murray and Celeste Fasken Chair in Distinguished Teaching in the College of Liberal Arts, in being honored with the award, presented during Monday’s (Sept. 14) Faculty Senate meeting and announced by the Office of the Provost.
“Transformational learning is imperative to the success of Texas A&M and the potential for our students to change the world,” said Texas A&M President Michael K. Young. “I am proud to recognize the excellent teaching of Dr. Katz and Dr. Rao with this honor.”
The prestigious award, established in 2003 by former Texas A&M President Robert M. Gates to underscore the importance of teaching at a major research university, provides for presentation each year of two Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Awards. Each comes with a one-time, after-tax $25,000 stipend that includes the title of “Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence” — a designation retained by the recipient for the remainder of his or her career. Like their predecessors, the two professors are recognized in perpetuity for their sustained excellence and fundamental contributions to student advancement in independent thinking, creative imagination, lifetime learning and discovery-based knowledge.
Katz and Rao will be formally honored at the 2021 Transformational Teaching and Learning Conference, set for May 5, 2021.
Rao, Texas A&M Class of 1996, earned both her master’s degree and doctorate in entomology from Texas A&M in 1996 and 2002, respectively. She was both a postdoctoral researcher and assistant research scientist in the Texas A&M Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering prior to joining the Texas A&M Biology faculty in 2011, where her research is focused on agricultural plant science, environmental science and animal science.
Rao served two years as a laboratory instructor before moving exclusively to the classroom as a lecturer, subsequently earning promotion to senior lecturer in 2017. She is a co-faculty advisor along with Texas A&M Biology Head Dr. Tom McKnight for BioFirst, a learning community established in fall 2018 to provide academic success and service-related resources for first-generation biology freshmen during their critical first year at Texas A&M. In addition, she was a key member of the joint faculty committee from Texas A&M Biology and the Texas A&M University Libraries responsible for implementing the free, online Texas A&M OpenStax Biology textbook that has saved Texas A&M students enrolled in introductory biology courses more than $600,000 per year since 2017. Rao recently completed work for a grant she secured to improve the textbook’s quality, teaming with Texas A&M Biology Associate Head for Academics Dr. Wayne Versaw to replace or refine more than 100 illustrations identified as providing poor content and/or projection resolutions.
A 2018 National Academies Education Fellow, Rao was honored with a 2019 Texas A&M Association of Former Students College-Level Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching. She also received the Texas A&M Office of Sustainability’s 2019 Faculty Sustainability Champion Award for her efforts to promote recycling across her department.
“Dr. Rao is one of the best professors I have ever had,” said one of her students in a letter supporting her nomination. “She is quick to demand perfection. She cares that her students actually succeed. She does her best to get us to understand the underlying concepts in each chapter. Not only this, but she is also super funny and a hard worker. When she talks about what all she has done on campus, I am always amazed. I cannot wait to take her next semester.”
Nominations for the Presidential Professor awards are made by students, faculty members and deans in each of the university’s colleges and schools. To be eligible for the award, nominees must be full-time faculty and hold the rank of lecturer, senior lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, professor or distinguished professor.
Rao is the eighth College of Science faculty member to merit the coveted honor since its inception in 2003, the same year in which physics professor Dr. William H. Bassichis earned selection as one of the award’s two inaugural recipients. Chemistry professors Dr. David E. Bergbreiter (2006), the late Dr. John L. Hogg (2007), Dr. Wendy L. Keeney-Kennicutt (2009) and Dr. Larry Brown (2013) also received the honor. In 2012, mathematics professor Dr. Harold P. Boas became the first recipient in the Department of Mathematics’ history. Most recently, physicist Dr. Tatiana Erukhimova merited the distinction in 2017.
To learn more about the Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Award or other Texas A&M faculty recognitions and honors, visit the Office of the Dean of Faculties website.