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Testa receives President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching Excellence

July 20, 2021
Testa receives President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching Excellence

Profile photo of Alexander Testa

Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Alexander Testa, has received the President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching Excellence. By incorporating inclusivity, availability and clear standards for all his classes, Testa makes a lasting impact on his students, inspiring them to grow, improve, and ultimately, succeed.  

"It is an honor to receive the President's Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching Excellence. During my own time as a college student, I had the opportunity to take classes with several excellent and highly motivated professors," says Testa. "My goal as an educator is to pay this experience forward and provide UTSA students with a classroom environment that is intellectually stimulating and promotes learning."

Testa began his academic career in community college, where he realized firsthand the value in having effective and dedicated teachers. Like many students at UTSA, Testa eventually transferred to a four-year university and became the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He shares his story with his students to encourage them that despite the odds, they too can achieve success. 

“Dr. Testa understands that this open and approachable manner and being unafraid to share personal information on his own successes and failures portrays a genuine offering of support that humanizes him and ultimately removes some of the traditional barriers to building connections with students that, for many instructors, remains elusive,” shares Professor and Chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Richard D. Hartley. 

Testa’s approachable teaching philosophy helps facilitate respectful and invigorating class discussion. The field of criminal justice concerns highly sensitive and controversial topics, so Testa sets clear guidelines for his students to engage in discussion while stressing the importance of hearing a variety of perspectives. 

“It was of the utmost importance for Dr. Testa that every student felt they had a voice, and their contributions were valued,” says Kensley Bell, a former student of Testa’s and a current graduate student at UTSA. 

Not only does Testa provide space for his students to feel secure in sharing their opinions, but he also orchestrates ways for them to employ the scientific method in these discussions. By investigating the impact of the policies they discuss, students connect real world examples with practical application. This allows them to develop and sharpen their critical thinking skills. 

Testa aims to not only have his students learn something new in his classes but walk away from the material with a thorough understanding. To accomplish this, Testa makes himself available before and after class, and accommodates students’ schedules with Zoom office hours. Testa also sends out periodic class evaluation surveys to check in with his students and see what areas of the class can be improved. 

With an instructor evaluation rating of 4.86 out of 5.00 and an average course evaluation of 4.88 out of 5.00, it is clear that Testa’s teaching methods are effective. His high marks continued through the transition to remote learning in March 2020, further underscoring Testa’s ability to cultivate an optimal learning environment for his students.  

Outside of teaching, Testa has mentored many students both formally and informally. He has successfully advised five undergraduate independent studies and served as a committee member on a master’s thesis. Testa has also written numerous recommendation letters for student jobs, graduate school and law school applications. 

Along with his accomplishments in cultivating student success, Testa is an active researcher. In the past five years alone, he has co-authored two op-eds & editorials, three book chapters and 40 peer-reviewed articles, not including numerous peer-review articles forthcoming and under review. 

Testa is on the Comprehensive Exam Committee and Faculty Merit Committee for the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UTSA. He is on the review board for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the editorial board for BMC Public Health and Journal of Criminal Justice and is a review editor for the International Journal of Public Health. 

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.