2022 Teaching and Advising Awards

Sept. 15, 2022

Every year, the College of Science recognizes outstanding faculty and advisors for their noteworthy participation in representing and contributing to the teaching and advising mission of the University of Arizona. There are six award categories to recognize these outstanding individuals with seven awardees this year.

We take pride in the care and support that our faculty and staff provide for our students. Read below to see what students have to say about award winners Alex Burant, Saumya Debray, Nicholas Ercolani, Ashley Jordan, Laurie Varecka, Ted Weinert, and Jennifer Wolfe. We celebrate their dedication to educating our students and perfecting their craft of teaching and advising. Congratulations!

We recognized this year's awardees and other outstanding members of the College of Science at the annual Faculty Reception on Tuesday, September 20, 2022.


Please contact Frankie Kolb at fkolb@arizona.edu with any questions.

Distinguished Early-Career Teaching Award

Alex Burant, Assistant Professor of Practice, Physics


Dr. Alex Burant, Assistant Professor of Practice in Physics, is the recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Early-Career Teaching Award. This award is given in recognition of outstanding classroom teaching, for less than 10 years, at the undergraduate or graduate levels.

“I think Dr. Burant’s most admirable quality is his genuine passion for not only physics but teaching. His energy and excitement can certainly be felt in the classroom. He was able to cultivate an environment that was not only conducive to learning but also made students comfortable asking questions. There should be a dialogue where students can explore the subject matter deeper, and Dr. Burant was able to strike that perfect balance between speaking and listening. He was a great mentor during my time as an undergraduate student. My goal was to someday attend medical school and with the guidance of mentors like Dr. Burant, I am proud to say that I am now concluding my first year as a medical student here at the U of A. It was certainly a great privilege learning from Dr. Burant, and he is undoubtedly one of my favorite instructors.” Michael Kim, BS Physiology, UArizona CoM Medical Student ‘24

“His students clearly love him. His office is across the hallway from mine, and before COVID, every day I used to see him and his students doing problems, joking around and clearly enjoying themselves. His enthusiasm for physics and for teaching was infectious to students and faculty alike.” Srinivas Manne, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Physics

“When instructors had to switch to remote teaching very suddenly, Alex not only proved to be an excellent innovator in delivering his own courses remotely, but even more importantly, played a strong leadership role in helping many of his colleagues (including myself) in making the transition to remote instruction. We are fortunate to have found Dr. Burant who is willing to share his enthusiasm and dedication to physics each semester with so many students. He is an innovative instructor who is continuously evolving and is willing to share his knowledge and time with colleagues.”  Sumit Mazumdar, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head, Physics

Distinguished Career Teaching Award

Saumya Debray, Professor, Computer Science


The Distinguished Career Teaching Award is given in recognition of a long career as an outstanding classroom teacher and mentor of students at different levels and in diverse settings.

“Thanks to Dr. Debray's knowledge and expertise in the field of Computer Science, I was able to master challenging content that may likely have remained unattainable without his strategic instruction. Among the great faculty in the College of Science, Dr. Debray stands out by far as the most inspiring educator, leader, and mentor I had the pleasure of learning and growing from. His compassion and dedication, availability to teach and inspire beyond the classroom setting, ability to impart knowledge and expertise, and mentor his students for growth are unparalleled!” Jean-Pierre Briedé, BS Computer Science, Software Engineer, Microsoft

“I was thrilled to return to working with Dr. Debray during my last semester as his course coordinator, and this experience solidified what I already knew to be true about him: he truly cares about the quality of his teaching, the students he teaches, and ensuring that his teaching is effective. He consistently puts focus on making sure students are engaged, whether through lecture material, programming assignments that appeal to a wide variety of interests or matching up students with opportunities outside the classroom such as research and teaching.

Dr. Debray is one of the best teachers I have had the pleasure to learn from, and I can think of no one more deserving of the College of Science Distinguished Career Teaching Award. He truly exemplifies the impact that a professor should have on their department and their students. Thank you for considering him for this award.” Meredith Larrabee, BS Computer Science, Software Development Engineer, GoDaddy

“Dr. Debray makes complicated concepts easy to understand. He is impeccably prepared for every class, with extremely well-designed notes. Dr. Debray has taught at an incredibly high level for decades, and yet he is constantly seeking (and achieving) improvement in his teaching.” David Lowenthal, Ph.D., Professor, and former Interim Department Head, Computer Science

Distinguished Mentoring Award

Nicholas Ercolani, Professor, Mathematics


The Distinguished Mentoring Award goes to Nicholas Ercolani, Professor, Mathematics. This award was established in 2021 to recognize faculty who have excelled in mentoring students. 

“I was a Ph.D. student of Dr. Ercolani from 1998 to 2004. My experience as a graduate student at the University Arizona centered on my interaction with Dr. Ercolani, his other students, and his coauthors. I have known and been working with Dr. Ercolani for 24 years, he has given me advice; guided and supported me, through transitions from temporary faculty positions, a postdoc position at Ohio State, to a tenure-track position at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley where I earned tenure in 2012 and was appointed as an Associate Dean for Student Success in Sciences in 2016. In 2018, I left Texas to take a position as Director of the School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado. Dr. Ercolani was available multiple times for questions about my chair responsibilities and handling difficult decisions with students, personnel, and administrators.

Throughout these years we have kept up a regular correspondence and frequent phone calls that touched on research efforts, past computations that needed updates, evolutions to computer technology that was used in our work and expanded questions in reach and would touch on students and work with students. In short, I credit Dr. Ercolani for a long-time commitment to mentoring and advising me in my career in research, teaching, and service, and in service especially as a department chair. He may not realize it, but he has impacted students through me in Ohio, Texas, and Colorado.” Virgil U. Pierce, Ph.D. in Mathematics, University of Arizona

“Nick embraces his mentees fully as human beings, not just as students and researchers. His commitment to mentoring is a lifetime commitment and includes all that life might throw one’s way. The letters from students are full of anecdotes about mentoring that go well beyond standard academic concerns and well past the student years. He is a force of nature! I recommend him most emphatically for the College of Science Distinguished Mentoring Award.” Douglas Ulmer, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head, Mathematics

Distinguished Achievement in Science Education

Ashley Jordan, Associate Professor of Practice & Director of Online Programs, Psychology


Ashley Jordan, Associate Professor of Practice, Psychology, has been chosen to receive the 2022 Distinguished Achievement in Science Education Award. This award is in recognition of outstanding contributions directed toward systematic improvement of science and mathematics education beyond the classroom. This includes scholarly works that contribute to improving teaching and learning. “Dr. Ashley Jordan has had a distinguished early teaching career that has made a significant impact on the teaching mission of the Psychology Department and the College of Science. The outstanding reputation enjoyed by the College of Science in online education can be attributed, to a great extent, to her efforts.” Lee Ryan, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head, Psychology

“In the last semesters, as I approach my graduation date and start preparing for the job market, Dr. Jordan has been an incredible and valuable resource to me. She has taken the time to share her expertise as teaching faculty and to provide me with guidance, advice, and feedback to better prepare for my future career. Dr. Jordan’s extraordinary teaching, mentoring, and leadership expertise is an ongoing inspiration for me, as well as many of her students, colleagues, and peers. She has an exceptional combination of psychology, teaching, and mentoring expertise, as well as exemplary interpersonal skills. I am confident that the Psychology Department would not be the same without her incredible support.” Alma Tejeda Padron, Psychology Ph.D. student

Distinguished Advising Award

Laurie Varecka, Assistant Director of the Math Center, Mathematics


The Distinguished Academic Advising Award goes to Laurie Varecka, Assistant Director of the Math Center. This award is given by the College of Science to recognize one advisor from the college who demonstrates outstanding, extensive, and continuous involvement in undergraduate advising.

“Laurie advises students, supervises other professional advisors and support staff, and keeps faculty advisors up to date on policy and best practices. Laurie has an incredibly high level of knowledge, skill, organization, and integrity. She can field almost any question a student might have directly, and if not, she is sure to be able to find answers in short order. But she’s much more than a resource for policy and requirements. She is empathetic, fully supportive of students whatever their issues might be, and keenly aware that empowering students to solve their own problems is one of the main reasons we are here.

Laurie contributes to our academic mission in many other ways: serving on the undergraduate curriculum committee, managing our scholarship program, organizing undergraduate research conferences, and updating our web pages. From advising and mentoring to degree design and management, she does it all with skill, efficiency, and dedication, and most of all with a strong focus on what is right for our students. I’m happy to support her most strongly for the College of Science Distinguished Advising Award.” Douglas Ulmer, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head, Mathematics

Distinguished Career Teaching Award

Ted Weinert, Professor, Molecular and Cellular Biology


“‘Dr. Ted’, as his students know him, is universally loved by students and faculty alike for his creative, critical, and wonder-driven approach to science. Dr. Ted Weinert has made career-long creative efforts to inspire large numbers of undergraduate students in introductory biology, many graduate students in the graduate cell systems course, his own Ph.D. students and postdocs, and the rest of us at every rank.

Ted takes an innovative approach to teaching. For example, in teaching the honors introductory biology students, he has decided that they are more engaged and big thinking when they can apply their learning to real-world problems. He therefore rewrote the entire curriculum to

understand HIV infection and AIDS. This allows the students to not just comprehend the central dogma of molecular biology and cell biology, but to be able to apply the molecular and cellular biology to a well-known virus and associated disease. This is an example of his fearless approach to make learning engaging. In addition, he can often be found chatting with students/postdocs/faculty from many different labs about their experiments in the lobby or hallways, always in a helpful mentoring mode. Ted Weinert is a great choice for this award. He is the consummate teacher in every fiber of his being.” Joyce Schroeder, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head, Molecular and Cellular Biology

“Dr. Ted is a creative and remarkable professor; his love for science is unparalleled. For me personally, taking his class in my first semester of college inspired a passion for science and a need to continuously search for “aha moments”. His excitement for biology is continuously instilled in his students. It happened with me, and I can see it happening with the students I preceptor for as well.” Keerthi Kurian, BS Neuroscience & Cognitive Science

Innovation in Teaching Award

Jennifer Wolfe, Associate Professor, Mathematics


Jennifer Wolfe, Associate Professor, Mathematics, has been chosen to receive the Innovation in Teaching Award. This award is in recognition of outstanding educational innovation developed and applied to course delivery whether in the classroom or in a virtual setting.

“I am delighted to recommend that the College recognize Jen’s work with the Innovation in Teaching Award. Jen works in Mathematics Education, specifically in the preparation of future teachers of secondary mathematics. She is a nationally renowned expert in “complex instruction,” a framework of pedagogical strategies which enable full participation in rigorous, small-group work by heterogeneous groups of students, e.g., those with widely varying strengths, cultural and linguistic resources, and social status. She has developed and integrated these methods in many contexts, most notably in synchronous, on-line instruction, and she is a sought-after national resource in this area. The impact of these methods has been large, both in UArizona classrooms and in elementary and secondary classrooms across the country.” Douglas Ulmer, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head, Mathematics

“Over the past five years, Dr. Wolfe organized and led 25 NSF-funded seminars with the aim of engaging undergraduates together with mathematics faculty in considering methods for expanding participation in STEM and improving the quality of grades 7-12 mathematics instruction. Dr. Wolfe invited and hosted guest speakers, and facilitated seminars herself, as she sought to recognize and share the work of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, and LGBTQIA+ mathematicians and mathematics educators. This included the first Native Hawaiian to earn a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, Kamuela Yong.” Rebecca McGraw, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Mathematics

Congratulations to this year's awardees!