Advancing Undergraduate Education

Dr. Catherine Ross Leads UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers

Publication Date: 05/26/2020

Although a senior faculty member, Dr. Catherine Ross still enjoys teaching freshman- and sophomore-level classes at The University of Texas at Tyler. The associate professor of English is most passionate about educating and inspiring students on the foundational level.

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Dr. Catherine Ross

"What I love most about teaching is when students suddenly realize they are smarter than they thought,'' she said. "When they get a sense of their own gifts, they become more motivated in their studies and are more likely to choose occupations that they will enjoy.''

Ross is a champion of undergraduate education not only at UT Tyler, but also throughout the UT System. She is serving a two-year term as president of UT System's Academy of Distinguished Teachers, which advocates for exemplary undergraduate learning across the system's eight academic institutions.

"We are extremely proud of Dr. Ross for her outstanding work and dedication to student success as a professor at UT Tyler and a leader in the UT System,'' said academy member Dr. Neil Gray, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "The Academy of Distinguished Teachers made a very wise choice in electing Dr. Ross to serve as president. She is a strong champion for teaching excellence and student learning.''

System-Level Advocacy

The academy recognizes outstanding educators in the UT System and inducts new members annually. Each academic institution nominates a past winner of the UT System Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award for consideration. Members serve as a system-level advocacy group dedicated to enhancing undergraduate teaching, fostering innovation in the classroom and promoting interdisciplinary perspectives on education.

"I am honored to serve as president of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers, which consists of 32 members representing over 600 hours of the very best university teaching in Texas,'' Ross said. "No other state university system in the nation has an entity such as ours, in which faculty from all eight academic campuses meet and undertake service projects to support undergraduate education.''

The group hosts a blog on best teaching practices, conducts forums for Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award recipients and collaborates with campus-level distinguished teacher academies. Members also write op-eds for state and national newspapers and present at national conferences. They have published two books since 2015 – "The Little Orange Book: Short Lessons in Teaching'' and the "Little Orange Book II: Student Voices on Excellent Teaching.''

Under Ross' leadership, the academy hosted its inaugural winter teaching conference in February at UT Tyler and plans to hold the event at a different UT academic institution each year.

With the theme "The Faculty Define Student Success,'' this year's conference was designed for teaching faculty, graduate students and staff and included speaker presentations, panel discussions and interactive sessions. Bob Duke, UT Austin's Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professor in Music and Human Learning, delivered the keynote.

"The conference was enthusiastically received by faculty who admit that they rarely have time to pause and focus discussion just on the challenges of the classroom,'' Ross said. "Advance word from the site of next year's conference, UT Rio Grande Valley, is that the event will be equally welcomed and useful to faculty, graduate students and staff.''

Academy fellows are particularly focused on providing graduate students the opportunity to talk about and develop teaching skills, Ross added, noting that many graduate students anticipate teaching careers. "If we can help them to start thinking early about what it takes for learning to be meaningful, then we will have helped them take the first steps toward being first-rate educators themselves," she said.

Dedicated to Teaching

Ross was selected as one of 12 founding fellows of the academy in 2013, after receiving the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award in 2011. Serving the University since 1998, she also received the Jack and Dorothy Faye White Fellowship for Teaching Excellence and the Alpha Chi Omega Honor Society's Outstanding Faculty Award, among other accolades.

She taught seventh- through 12-grade English at private preparatory schools in Texas and Michigan for more than a decade, before returning to school to pursue her dream of becoming a professor. Ross earned her Ph.D. in 1998 from UT Austin, where she won the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for her study of the relationships between people of science and letters in the long 18th century.

A specialist in literature of the Romantic and Victorian periods, Ross said UT Tyler was one of only five universities in the nation with openings in her area of expertise when she finished her doctorate. "I applied to three of those universities and was lucky enough to be offered two of those positions, one at UT Tyler and another in Oregon,'' she said. "I liked the people at UT Tyler, so I accepted the position here, and I never left.''

Joining the faculty the year UT Tyler became a four-year university, Ross taught the school's first freshmen and sophomores. Prior to 1998, UT Tyler was an upper-division-only program for college juniors, seniors and graduate-level students.

Ross has served her department as coordinator of undergraduate- and graduate-level English and teaches courses on both levels in British literature, with a focus on Romantic and Victorian Periods and the history and practice of rhetoric.

While most of her students are English majors, she insists every year on teaching one of the introductory literature classes, which are part of the core curriculum required for all students regardless of their majors. Teaching those classes gives her the opportunity to help students across all academic disciplines to develop critical thinking skills and to develop a life-long love of reading, she said.

"I endeavor to make sure students leave every session feeling that our work on literary texts has put them in contact with real people and real-life questions, and that it has triggered their imaginations and built their intellectual confidence,'' Ross said.

She has published articles and spoken at scholarly conferences on subjects including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Browning, the relationship of men of science and letters, and educational practices and prose of the Romantic period.

A contributor to the textbook "Romantic Science: The Literary Forms of Natural History,'' Ross is currently working on a book project about the education of Romantic and Victorian period writers who were some of the most important and innovative in English literary history.