Committed to the Classroom

April 26, 2024

Committed to the Classroom

What makes an excellent teacher? Find out from three CAS faculty members who were recognized for their outstanding contributions to student learning.

As Maria “Bene” Santos began to lecture her first-year Portuguese class, a group of deans and colleagues barged in with good news: She was the recipient of the Tykeson Teaching Award.

“What a good way to start my day,” Santos said as she accepted the award in front of her students.

The award is an annual prize given to one outstanding faculty member in each division of the College of Arts and Sciences who goes above and beyond in the classroom. Santos, an instructor in the Department of Romance Languages, is one of three instructors—including Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies Associate Professor Lynn Fujiwara and Department of Computer Sciences Instructor Phil Colbert—to receive the 2024 Tykeson Teaching Awards.

“The classroom is a special space where our students are introduced to new ideas and ways of thinking that encourage intellectual growth and prepare them for their future path,” says Chris Poulsen, Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences. “This year’s Tykeson Teaching awardees are passionate about teaching and supporting students through engaging lectures, activities and discussions.”


Tykeson award recipient Phil Colbert
Phil Colbert, director of the computer information technology minor in the Department of Computer Science

Natural Sciences: Making computer science accessible

Students who minor in computer information technology (CIT) often feel intimidated by computer science—especially those who have little experience with it.

As director of the CIT minor, Phil Colbert teaches students from more than 30 different majors how to navigate the complexities of the digital world. His goal, he says, is to prove to them that they can master it.

"The challenge is how to make the material of the minor accessible and understandable,” says the senior instructor. “I want my students to gain self-confidence in understanding technology and their ability to be successful in solving problems.”

After working in the technology field for decades as a software engineer, architect and consultant, Colbert knows a thing or two about solving problems. A California transplant and graduate of California State University, Chico, he founded his own custom software development and consulting firm and taught at several colleges throughout the Sacramento area and the Pacific Northwest before landing at UO nearly 10 years ago.

Since joining the Department of Computer Science, Colbert has worked to make computer science courses more accessible and inclusive. In addition to developing online versions of key lower-division courses, he is also teaching the foundational CS 111 course both in person and asynchronously.


I strive to connect with students, develop an inclusive learning environment, and find ways to make technologies understandable by everyone, he says.


Colbert is “deeply dedicated to broadening the technical expertise and problem-solving skills of students, both within and beyond the field of computer science,” adds Elliot Berkman, divisional associate dean for the natural sciences.

As a valuable mentor in the CIT minor program, Berkman says Colbert helps students complete thesis projects and guides them as they pursue internships and job opportunities. He also helped create the student-run Oregon Software Consultants, where students gain hands-on experience in software development and consulting while serving real-world clients within the community—including a local nonprofit that helps children in need.

“My approach to mentorship is similar to how I might approach consulting with a client: helping them to articulate the goals of the project, understand the requirements, and working with them to determine a variety of potential solutions,” he says.


Tykeson award recipient
Lynn Fujiwara, associate professor in the Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies

Social Sciences: Connecting with students, one class at a time

Providing individual feedback to each student ended up being the best way for Lynn Fujiwara, associate professor in the Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies, to learn how to connect with students.

Fujiwara was a graduate student at a university that had a policy of not issuing grades. So, Fujiwara had to write extensive feedback for each student for each assignment, as well as their final assessment. That showed Fujiwara the importance of getting to know individual students, whether she has a large or small class size.

When Fujiwara came to the UO more than 20 years ago, she brought the practice of in-depth feedback when grading student assignments. And that practice was an eye-opener for them.


You gave me so much feedback that I thought I did a bad job. But I did a good job, and you still gave me all this feedback and helped me think through my ideas, Fujiwara recalled one student telling her.


Despite the changing role of technology in classrooms, Fujiwara continues to connect with students on classroom concepts, no matter what class she’s teaching. At the start of her classes, she makes sure to not only provide an overview of the day and the concepts they’ll be covering, as well as why those concepts matter in everyday life, and not just as an academic assignment.

“We all live in this world, and the material that we teach about is all around us,” Fujiwara says. “I’m trying to get them to be able to start questioning, interrogating, analyzing, asking questions. And giving them a concept that they can actually think about as an active term that makes a difference in our world.”

The active role that Fujiwara has played in the classroom has made a difference throughout CAS and the university. She’s played an important part in redefining what an anti-racist, feminist classroom looks like, says Ernesto Javier Martínez, associate professor and head of the Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies.

“She is a dedicated and approachable educator who sets the bar very high for what a liberatory ethnic studies education should look and feel like,” Martínez says. “Our students are the better for it.”

And her students remain—after all these years—the best monitors for how well she runs her class. “I want the classroom to feel like a community, where we all care about each other’s learning,” she says.


Tykeson award for Bene
Maria “Bene” Santos, senior instructor of Portuguese in the Department of Romance Languages

Humanities: Teaching Portuguese to 'foreigners'

Learning Portuguese is a joy when Maria “Bene” Santos is the teacher. Students describe her as a warm, patient, energetic and attentive instructor.

Santos, who grew up in São Luis, Maranhão, Brazil, is a senior instructor of Portuguese in the Department of Romance Languages. She is the sole faculty member responsible for three years of Portuguese instruction and programming at the UO.


I like teaching my language and culture to foreign people, Santos says.


Santos’ work isn’t just in the classroom. She designs and implements all Portuguese courses and supervises international teaching assistants participating in the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Portuguese program, providing mentorship for language teachers from Portuguese-speaking countries. She also staffs and promotes all program activities, such as film screenings, a discussion group, and an annual talent show.

Her peers see her as a highly skilled and dedicated educator deeply engaged in improving her practice and in sharing her learning with students and colleagues. She is also a community builder in the Department of Romance Languages and makes significant contributions to equity and inclusion in her teaching and service activities.

“I like teaching within the UO community because of the support and opportunity provided by my colleagues and superiors,” Santos says.

Santos, a UO alumna, was surprised by the presentation of the 2024 Tykeson Teaching Award. She thought the presenters were coming into her class to announce something—but did not expect it to be that she won an award.

“This award means a lot because my hard work was recognized and praised in another country,” she says.

—By Jenny Brooks, Henry Houston and Nicole Krueger, College of Arts and Sciences

—Video by Hannah Heckart and Milla Ly, College of Arts and Sciences