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Cepek receives President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in both Core Curriculum Teaching and Community-Engagement

July 26, 2021
Cepek receives President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in both Core Curriculum Teaching and Community-Engagement

Photo of Cepek (center) pictured with members of the Cofán people in eastern Ecuador.

Professor Michael Cepek in the Department of Anthropology has won the President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in both Core Curriculum Teaching and Community-Engagement. Both awards recognize Cepek’s intertwined and inspirational accomplishments, fueled by his passion for his discipline and the many communities his knowledge impacts.

"As a member of the UTSA faculty for more than 13 years, it is tremendously affirming to receive both the President’s Distinguished Achievement Award for Core Curriculum Teaching and the President’s Distinguished Achievement Award for Community-Engagement," says Cepek. 

“My teaching is that much more effective because of my strong belief in the abilities of anthropology to orient a meaningful and productive life," Cepek continutes. "I love the people of San Antonio and Amazonian Ecuador, and I am extremely appreciative to feel so validated by the receipt of these awards. Thank you for all you help me to do, UTSA!”

Cepek is a passionate spokesperson for anthropology, sharing with his students the discipline’s capacity for the development of critical thinking and social responsibility as well as teamwork, communication, empirical, and quantitative skills. His effectiveness as a teacher is not only due to his passion for the field, but also his commitment to underrepresented groups. 

Recognizing the unique challenges faced by students in underrepresented groups, Cepek works with these students to help them achieve their goals. He believes that a college education is not just about learning new material, but helping students grow and develop into engaged and dynamic citizens in the broader community. To accomplish this, Cepek cultivates engaging and inclusive environments in his classrooms. 

This supportive classroom structure allows Cepek to employ the Socratic teaching method in his classes, despite many of them having high enrollment. His openness and honesty, coupled with a commitment to student discussion, encourages his students to develop their own critical thinking skills while remaining respectful and open to different perspectives. 

One student commented: 

“Dr. Cepek truly loves teaching and is passionate about anthropology. He keeps his whole class engaged and makes a large class (about 75 people) feel small and personal.”

Cepek served as core curriculum coordinator for Introduction to Anthropology and is chair of the Department of Anthropology’s Merit Revision Committee and Core Curriculum Assessments. 

“Dr. Cepek’s sustained teaching excellence and community engagement date back to his first semester at UTSA, as does his unwavering dedication to UTSA’s undergraduate and graduate students,” says Thad Q. Bartlett, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology.

"His passion for and love of learning form the primary motivations for his teaching, as he endeavors to share his knowledge with his students and help them find that passion for themselves." 

 Cepek’s community-engagement accomplishments can most notably be seen in his collaborations with the indigenous Cofán people in the Amazon rainforests of eastern Ecuador. Visiting the Cofán nearly every summer over the last 25 years, Cepek’s research has helped share with the world the Cofán’s culture and relationship with environmental change, while helping the Cofán gain greater autonomy and ability to manage their land, resources and cultural heritage. 

Cepek’s 2012 book, A Future for Amazonia: Randy Borman and Cofán Environmental Politics, examines how the Cofán transformed their identity and relationships with the outside world through their efforts to stop oil and lumber companies infringing into their homelands. Cepek’s 2018 book, Life in Oil: Surviving Disaster in the Petroleum Fields of Amazonia, assesses how 50 years of oil extraction has impacted the Cofán and how in turn the Cofán have adapted. 

Cepek has also contributed to a variety of efforts that benefit the Cofán people, including contributing to the documentary film, Oil & Water, produced by Cofán UTSA doctoral student, Hugo Lucitante. Honoring Cepek’s lifelong investment to the Cofán people, Cepek was chosen as the Cofán Survival Fund’s President in 2017, a notable achievement for a non-native Cofán. 

Outside of his work in Ecuador, Cepek is heavily involved in the San Antonio community. Cepek is a leader of the Tobin Hill Community Association. He shares his anthropological expertise on his neighborhood’s community discussions through his civic journalism to the San Antonio Report. Both positions allow Cepek to contribute to the welfare of his diverse fellow residents. 

Cepek’s service to the UTSA community is also extensive. He is the faculty co-coordinator of the Department of Anthropology’s Workshop on Culture, Environment, and Society. Additionally, Cepek coordinates the department’s lecture series and doctoral program recruitment and advertising, he serves as the department webmaster, and he is a member of the Faculty Review Advisory Committee, Scholarship Committee, College Faculty Review Advisory Committee, and representative to the Graduate Council. 

For the Graduate Council, Cepek serves as chair of the Membership Committee and member of both the Administration & Agenda Committee and Restructuring Committee. Cepek has served on many masters and doctoral committees, chairing seven dissertation committees and eight masters committees.

His publications include a peer-reviewed edited volume, three peer-reviewed books, 13 peer-reviewed articles, eight non-peer-reviewed productions and 16 non-peer-reviewed publications with three additional publications in press. Cepek has also been invited to 16 presentations, 12 refereed presentations, 10 non-refereed presentations and nine remote guest lectures since joining UTSA. 

"Dr. Cepek is the epitome of the engaged scholar who finds a synergy between his scholarship and his commitments to the communities to which he belongs. And he accomplishes all of this while also being the department's best teachers and best researchers." says Bartlett. "Indeed, one of the reasons he is so effective in his community service is precisely becuase his excellence in teaching and research directly impact his community engagements."

The President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Core Curriculum Teaching recognizes excellence in core curriculum teaching that include innovation and rigor in the classroom, a strong commitment to the aims of the core curriculum through innovative course development and assessment, and positive student feedback. 

The President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Community Engagement recognizes tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty who are exemplary in their service and civic scholarship outside of the university, providing leadership and making significant contributions to the public good. This award honors the importance of continuous contributions to the external community that create sustainable connections with the university, elevate the civic mission of the institution, and provide measured impacts on community needs.