Lamar University Press Logo

Kucknoor wins first Beck teaching award

It was a day that began like any other for Ashwini Kucknoor when her class was unexpectedly visited by Lamar University President Kenneth Evans. He presented the associate professor of biology with a check for $25,000 for the first David J. Beck Teaching Excellence Award.

The award is given to a teacher who best represents “the pinnacle of teaching excellence and whose academic performance brings acclaim to LU.”

Kucknoor’s teaching philosophy and style, her instructional goals, strategies and methods, as well as her approach to engaging students in active and collaborative learning experiences earned her the award, a release states.

“My professional goal is to reach as many students as I can by adopting most, if not all of the proven styles and strategies out there, by constantly updating my teaching techniques, by taking a personal interest in students' struggles and successes, and by going that extra mile at times, in the best interest of the students,” she said. “I'm sure my fellow nominees were all also doing similar things as well.”

Kucknoor was nominated by her student, Carlo Vanz, as he was leaving LU to pursue his doctorate in immunology and microbiology at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“Due to my summer teaching assignment and lack of time, I almost didn’t turn in my application, but decided to give it a try because I did not want to disappoint Carlo,” she said.

Kucknoor said her epiphany of reaching her students on a personal level began during her first semester when her class exam average was at 60 percent. 

“I began to get to know my student population,” she said. “How do they prepare for exams, their backgrounds and where are they coming from? The very first things in method that I did was to get a free trial textbook for my class so they could have access to audios and videos. I told my students, if you are driving you can listen to it, if you’re working and have down time, you can look on your phone. Immediately, the class average went from Ds to Cs, and gradually I made it compulsory.”

Kucknoor invites students to attend office hours to discuss what they missed on their exams. 

“I put their grades on Blackboard,” she said. “But if they want to see what they miss on their exams and why they missed them, then they come talk to me. I try to be more personal so that they know that I care, and ask them about my teaching technique, and I will explain to them what all they can do.”

Kucknoor said that is how she captures them to keep motivating them to do better.

“For some I will tell, ‘You’re making 50s, you have to really pick up now, or if it is the third test, then I tell them the reality, ‘Look, whatever you are doing or how you are studying is not going to help you. I cannot lie and tell you that you are going to make an A or B, it is hard for you to pass now.’ I tell them to finish up the semester and come back next semester with a different mindset and I will help you get through this.”

­­­Kucknoor said that once her lab research began, she realized that her students needed someone to constantly tell them, ‘You can do this.’

“That is what I have done with all of my undergrad students who are all doing really well — that is my pride,” she said.

Kucknoor was one of the 73 nominations submitted by students, faculty and administration for the award. Of those 73 nominations, 25 faculty members completed the application process, a release states. 

“Those are the examples of when I say I want to go that extra mile to understand their struggles, to be able to guide them and help them and if nothing else, put that thought in their mind that, ‘Yes, I can do this,’” she said. “And I think that is important especially in school when students have a teacher who says that. I think that makes a difference. But these are my stories, these are my students.”

Category: News