Lopez, Datta-Sandhu honored for teaching excellence
Feb. 9, 2007
KALAMAZOO--Two longtime Western Michigan University faculty members, revered by students for their instructional skills, are the first to be named recipients of WMU's Distinguished Teaching Awards, a revival of a similar University program that for 35 years honored classroom excellence.
Dr. Irma M. Lopez, professor of Spanish, and Dr. Suhashni "Sushi" Datta-Sandhu, associate professor of political science, will be presented with the awards Wednesday, Feb. 28, when the University holds an academic convocation designed to recognize excellence across the campus and mark the 50th anniversary of WMU's status as a university. The teaching awards carry a one-time cash prize of $2,000 and a subsequent increase in base salary.
During the 3:30 p.m. convocation ceremony on Feb. 28, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall, WMU Interim President Diether H. Haenicke will present these and other Universitywide awards to members of the faculty and staff. Other award winners to be honored at the event include winners of the Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Distinguished Service and Emerging Faculty Scholar awards.
Lopez and Datta-Sandhu will be the first faculty members honored for teaching since 2001, when the last WMU Alumni Association Teaching Excellence Award was presented. That program, which began in 1966, extended the honor to 131 faculty members. In 2006, the new program was launched and will honor up to three full-time faculty members each year.
"These awards celebrate teaching, which is the core mission of our University," says Dr. Katherine Joslin, professor of English, chair of the award committee and a 1997 recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award.
Dr. Irma M. Lopez, a faculty member since 1994, is an expert on Mexican literature and Latin American women writers. She teaches a full range of Spanish language and literature courses, with two-thirds of her teaching at the advanced level. Teaching everything from introductory Spanish to graduate-level literature courses, she is praised by one colleague who noted that, "All of these courses together constitute a daunting teaching assignment, but Professor Lopez has handled every one of these classes with professionalism, grace and passion."
Another colleague wrote that, "In addition to having the perfect academic background for teaching, Irma possesses in abundance, the most important quality a teacher can have. She cares about students. That quality makes everything else possible. It gives her incredible energy and patience."
Lopez, who directs WMU's study abroad program in Queretaro, Mexico, also was praised for her ability to engage students, overcome any fears they have about traveling abroad for language study and infuse in them an appreciation for Mesoamerican cultures.
A former student who has gone on to a doctoral program at Harvard said the program changed his life and played a key role in the career path he has chosen.
"Her ability to communicate with students on many levels, generate and share enthusiasm for the study of language and culture, and support students' interests in interdisciplinary research is what truly distinguishes her as an outstanding teacher and mentor," the student wrote.
Another student who has just finished a doctoral degree said, "Professor Lopez has been one of the best teachers I ever had. She has been an inspiration for me. She is very dedicated to her career, her research and her students."
"I would not be exaggerating when I say that her influence has been life changing," wrote another graduate student.
Lopez earned her bachelor's degree from Weber State University in 1987, her master's from the University of Utah in 1989 and her doctoral degree from the University of Kansas in 1994. She was a teaching assistant at Kansas for five years before joining the WMU faculty.
Dr. Suhashni Datta-Sandhu, a faculty member since 1970, is an expert in the field of African studies and is the creator and supervisor of WMU's study abroad program in Cape Town, South Africa. She teaches in the area of international and comparative politics, and her offerings include a popular course called Women in Developing Countries.
A colleague who wrote in support of her nomination said, "Students come away from her classes with a richer cultural appreciation of developing countries, as well as a better understanding of why politics must be structured in different ways across cultures with different and varied norms and histories."
A former student who has since gone on to a career in film production praised Datta-Sandhu for her ability to "convert the casual academic passerby" and send them away "inspired, enthralled, or otherwise changed for the better" by taking her course.
"Dr. Datta-Sandhu has an uncanny enthusiasm, a flair for Socratic argument, a vast wealth of knowledge and a genuine passion for what she teaches," he wrote. "Dr. Datta-Sandhu's class was not about regurgitating a curriculum; it was about changing a local perspective to a global one, and understanding our lives, relationships and notions in the broader context of world and gender history."
Another student who recently took her class wrote, "Dr. Datta-Sandhu made the seemingly distant problems of women real and relevant to our lives through engaging lectures that stirred debate and discussion among the students. She challenged me to critically think about the similarities between myself and the women I studied."
Another student who wrote in support of her nomination said, "Dr. Datta-Sandhu has a way of looking at a student which says, 'I know what you are capable of, and I can not wait to see you achieve it.' We, in turn, can not wait to make her proud of us."
A native of Kenya, Datta-Sandhu first joined the WMU faculty in 1970 as an instructor in the College of General Studies. She earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees from WMU in 1969 and 1972, respectively, and her doctoral degree from the University of Nairobi in 1979.
Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org