UW announces recipients of two prestigious teaching awards


On April 19, the recipients of the Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA) and the Amit & Meena Chakma Award for Exceptional Teaching by a Student (AETS) were announced.

The DTA, established in 1975, is awarded to a maximum of four recipients annually to recognize exemplary instructors at UW. Since its inception, there have been 150 DTAs given out, with the main criteria being an outstanding teaching record over the course of at least five years at UW.

This year’s DTA has been awarded to Upkar Arora, a lecturer at the school of accounting and finance, and Paul McKone, the senior design instructor in the faculty of environment’s department of knowledge integration.

Arora, described by colleagues as “someone who has a vast amount of industry experience, who would take time to mentor countless students on a one-to-one basis”, emphasizes a student-centric approach to teaching. His seminar series Success Beyond the Classroom, which helps students make informed career choices by showing them career paths beyond the usual accounting and finance roles, has earned the admiration of both his students and colleagues, the latter of which praised Arora’s ability to “continually help students through critical inflection points and… guide them throughout many challenges that they face in their careers.”

Arora’s work with Rally Assets, an impact investing firm, also demonstrates his commitment to social and environmental justice, encouraging students to apply their knowledge and energy to create meaningful impact in the world.

McKone, whose teaching style focuses on experiential, hands-on learning methods, involves his students in innovative projects that encourage real-world thinking, such as an environmental design project for which students proposed designs to complement a new light rail system. “I love seeing people try new things and develop new understanding, learning through trial, error, and iteration,” McKone said in an email. “I like to say, ‘We learn to walk by falling down,’ and I think that students should be able to risk failure without risking their academic standing… Everyone is always teaching; everyone is always learning.”

Described as a kind, humorous and approachable instructor who prioritizes his students’ best interests, a former student noted McKone’s open approach to knowledge, saying, “He treated every activity in the program as a valuable learning opportunity, and he confidently presented all of what he had to share.”

The AETS, established through a donation by Dr. and Mrs. Chakma, is meant to recognize excellence in teaching by registered students, including TAs, laboratory demonstrators, and sessional lecturers. Each recipient receives acknowledgement of the award at convocation, a certificate, and a prize of approximately $1,000.

This year’s AETS has been awarded to Justin Shmordok, a PhD student in chemistry, Sanaz Saadatmand Hashemi, a PhD candidate in systems design engineering (SYDE), Urja Nandivada, an undergraduate student in physics and astronomy, and Urszula Pasterkiewicz, a PhD student in public health sciences.

Shmordok, known for creating an “inviting and fun” atmosphere in which his students may develop their ideas, has been a TA for many courses. Shmordok has also supervised co-op students, volunteers in research laboratories, and fourth-year research projects. Through these experiences, Shmordok has thrived as a mentor by patiently guiding his students’ academic development.

One student praised Shmordok’s ability to treat students as both adults and young learners, stating, “Justin finds that balance by validating our struggles, personally and academically, while still creating an environment where he challenges us to do our best.” Shmordok has held TA positions for CHEM 250L, CHEM 212, and has been a graduate lab supervisor for CHEM 494.

Hashemi’s efforts in fostering a positive learning environment for students have been praised by colleagues and students alike. To create such a space, Hashemi often volunteers time outside of office hours to help accommodate all students. Hashemi has also taken up initiatives like creating scheduling systems to help students book lab time in order to ensure data collection in a safe, conflict-free way. An undergraduate student praised Hashemi for her “efforts, approachable nature and supportive attitude, [which] made the course and its content that much easier to absorb.” Hashemi has held TA positions for ME 321, MTE 219, SYDE 182, SYDE 286, SYDE 362 and BME 355.

Nandivada, whose bright personality has helped students overcome difficulties in the classroom, has worked to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for students. Despite chronic illness, she continues to make a positive impact on students with her passion for teaching, with one student stating that “her knowledge in the field helps the students prosper when doubts arise in the lab.” Another student recalled Nandivada’s “words of encouragement to keep going and not give up.” Nandivada has held TA positions for PHYS 121L, PHYS 131L, and PHYS 122L.

Pasterkiewicz, known as a supportive and enthusiastic teacher who prioritizes her students’ learning and mental health, has designed a course called HLTH 373: Design Your Future, which Pasterkiewicz states is based on continuous instructor-student dialogue leading to scientific discoveries. “My priority [when teaching] is getting students’ full attention and active involvement,” Pasterkiewicz stated in an email. “I find it very rewarding to be able to evoke students’ true interest… and engage them in research and scientific collaboration. Quite early in my teaching career… I discovered that experiential learning as well as individual approach in the classroom creates opportunities for every single student to succeed.”

Students noted her ability to provide effective clarification and look out for her students, with one stating that she is “always open to listening to our input and giving us constructive criticism and encouragement to put out the best work.” Pasterkiewicz has held teaching positions for HLTH 373, HLTH 273, HLTH 340 and HLTH 320.