UT Austin Honors Six OnRamps Instructors of the Year

OnRamps Instructor of the Year
Pictured: Instructor of the Year recipient Shelly Steele (left) and OnRamps Director Julie Schell (right). Photo courtesy of UT Austin

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas OnRamps program at The University of Texas at Austin honored six outstanding teachers for the OnRamps Instructor of the Year Award on July 28, 2017.

OnRamps’ dedication to cultivating teacher excellence, best-in-class instructional materials and extending teacher quality throughout the public school system in Texas is echoed in the six teachers chosen.

“As OnRamps committees identified Instructors of the Year, a theme emerged: transformation,” said Dr. Julie Schell, director of OnRamps and strategic initiatives. “These instructors illustrate a story of transformation through their passion for students and unique contributions to their local educational ecosystems throughout Texas.”

Texas OnRamps partners with more than 70 school districts and 350 UT faculty members and teachers from across the state to provide college-level courses to high school students, extending educational innovation from the university to more than 10,000 Texas students in the 2017-2018 year.

The path to Instructor of the Year began with a rigorous application process that included nominations, essays and letters of recommendation. Two committees of educational leaders from The University of Texas at Austin spearheaded the anonymous selection of the six honorees. The competitive pool of candidates included more than 200 Texas teachers who had implemented OnRamps courses in 2016-2017.

“The 2017 OnRamps Instructors of the Year represent the exceptional work of all Texas educators. We are grateful for the incredible work they do in classrooms and to impact their local communities,” said Jennifer Porter, assistant director for instructional innovation and curricular implementation.

Each Instructor of the Year received a crystal award and $1,500. They are:

Dante Schmidt

Rhetoric course, Lake Highlands High School in Richardson Independent School District.

“Since I survived a rigorous master's program, I thought I understood the process of writing well, but teaching rhetoric made me think about writing in a new way. I gained new insights into the value of words to build credibility and emotions, and I was able to break down the writing process into relevant pieces … Thus, thanks to the rhetoric class, I now understand the process of writing much better!” Schmidt said.

Bryce Henderson

Geoscience course, Rider High School in Wichita Falls Independent School District.

“As I push my students to master the rigorous OnRamps Geoscience curriculum, I find myself learning more and having a deeper appreciation for the fundamental concepts of geology,” said Henderson. He continued, “When I understand something and am able to capture my students’ attention through my content knowledge, I can’t stop them as they explore a topic in more detail.”

Shelly Steele

Computer Science course, Ponder High School in Ponder Independent School District.

"After 23 years of teaching, participation in OnRamps has renewed the spark for learning and teaching a completely new subject. I am excited about the OnRamps curriculum and pedagogy, and that excitement is passed on to my students and fellow teachers," Steele said.

Jonathan Alexander

Statistics course, Stony Point High School in Round Rock Independent School District.

When asked what one might see when walking into his OnRamps Statistics classroom, Alexander said: “My best days of OnRamps Statistics this year have been the ones where students are directing the classroom and helping each other fill the holes in their content knowledge … Kids love to try and figure out the coding, and they often shoo away my assistance when I offer it. If there is one thing I've successfully taught my students to do, it's being a risk-taker. Students now, more than at the beginning of the year, are willing to take a shot.”

Deborah Pannabecker

Physics course, Randolph High School in Randolph Field Independent School District.

“OnRamps has truly transformed my teaching! I went from a teacher-centered pedagogy to a student-centered peer instruction pedagogy. I know my students will be better prepared for college upon high school graduation because they were exposed to OnRamps college level material in a safe high school environment,” Pannabecker said.

Tobi Brooks

PreCalculus course, J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson Independent School District.

“There are some myths that we teachers sometimes believe … We think students are learning when they regurgitate what we just said to them, but if we don’t challenge them on their thinking, we have no idea what they are taking away. Teachers (I have certainly been guilty of this at some points in my career) are doing their students a huge disservice if they let them get away with less than their best while simultaneously rewarding them with false confidence and good grades. I already 'knew' this, but now I can say that I live it, and I have the tools to show other teachers how this can be done in our school,” said Brooks.