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Stephen receives President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching Excellence

June 9, 2021
Stephen receives President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching Excellence

Photo of Drew Stephen holding a horn instrument.

Associate Professor in the Department of Music, J. Drew Stephen, has received the President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching Excellence, recognizing his efforts to create engaging and challenging learning experiences for his students. From fostering a strong learning community for his students to helping his fellow faculty navigate online teaching, Stephen is a champion of instructional excellence at UTSA. 

"I am grateful to be recognized by my students and peers and honored to be a part of our fantastic faculty and contributing to the overall teaching excellence at UTSA," says Stephen.

As co-director of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts Semester in Urbino, Italy, Stephen was teaching in Italy at the start of the Spring 2020 semester when the pandemic caused him and his fifteen music students to return home. Rather than letting this setback disrupt his teaching, Stephen redefined his goals for the year to provide an enriching online learning experience for his students.

“With the many challenges students faced this past year, I wanted my classes to be engaging so that my students could succeed in a welcoming yet challenging learning environment," says Stephen. "I was very impressed by their resilience and dedication to learning."

At a time when students faced unprecedented challenges, Stephen helped his students feel comfortable learning online through his adept command of Blackboard. Stephen ensured each of his courses received a well-organized layout, clear instructions and intimate, interactive lectures. He also employed various learning modalities, from embedded music clips and documentaries to his own performances demonstrating musical concepts. 

“Of all my professors this semester, Dr. Stephen was the one who capitalized most on the unique situation, and was able to present a truly wonderful class experience in which I learned the best, despite the circumstances,” comments Brennan Wingenter, a current undergraduate student of Stephen’s. 

Acknowledging the importance of community for his students, Stephen prioritized group work in his course, introducing best practices for success. Stephen also ensured his classes had ample discussions and peer review. Well aware of students’ diverse backgrounds, Stephen accommodates their schedules without compromising the integrity of his courses.

This emphasis on learning together, coupled with Stephen’s commitment for his students to achieve their learning objectives, sets the standard for quality online course instruction. These efforts are most notable in the success of his online Music and Film course. The notoriously intense course held a 90% retention rate, with the majority of students achieving a B or better for the Fall 2020 semester. 

Stephen piloted the most popular core curriculum course for the Department of Music, the History and Styles of Rock. As the first fully online course in the department, Stephen’s experience with online teaching and development made him the clear choice to serve as the department’s Online Teaching Faculty Champion. 

In this role, Stephen has helped his fellow faculty transition their traditionally in-person courses online, while providing ample feedback for course success. He also created instructional videos to share his online teaching practices with the entire UTSA teaching community. Stephen’s support of his fellow faculty on both the departmental and university level underscores his dedication to providing excellent instruction. 

Stephen has also made great strides in addressing issues of inclusion and diversity in the department’s music history course offerings. Knowing that the repertoire typically covered in music classes is predominantly by composers who are white and male, Stephen crafted unique assignments and projects for his students to expand their knowledge of composers from underrepresented groups. This attention to diversity furthers his connection with his students and helps advance UTSA’s mission of being a Hispanic-serving institution. 

“From fostering productive and rewarding engagement with course materials to supporting colleagues in the development of their own pedagogies, particularly in relation to online teaching, Dr. Stephen is a tireless advocate for excellence in instruction,” says Tracy Cowden, department chair and Roland K. Blumberg endowed professor in music. 

The Teaching Excellence Awards recognize accomplished faculty whose command of their respective disciplines, teaching methodologies, communication skills, and commitment to learning translate into a superior learning experience for students. These awards are aimed at faculty who maintain high expectations and standards for their students, ensuring academic rigor, while meeting the challenges of motivating students and helping them develop into educated, ethical, and responsible citizens.