Dr. Sarira Motaref has been recognized by the UConn School of Engineering as this year’s Distinguished Engineering Educator for her outstanding teaching and record of teaching innovation at the undergraduate level.
Dr. Motaref, an Associate Professor in Residence who has been a member of the Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty since 2013, quickly established herself as a top-notch educator. She has been recognized for her excellence in teaching by the Office of the Provost every year since joining the department. Her students have also recognized Dr. Motaref for her outstanding teaching; she was selected by the graduating senior class for three consecutive years (2016, 2017, and 2018) to receive the C. R. Klewin Excellence in Teaching Award.
A nominee for the University Teaching Innovation Award in 2017, Dr. Motaref is also well known as an innovator in the classroom. Rather than relying on the standard lecture format in her teaching, she has embraced the “flipped classroom,” a teaching model that reverses the standard course delivery by providing course content through online modules outside of the classroom. In this model, class time is dedicated to student-centered, interactive learning modes. According to Dr. Motaref, the flipped classroom model allows students flexibility, so that “any time they decide to learn, they have access to the course materials.” Flipped courses, she says, “help to enhance the quality of teaching in large classes, reduce teaching loads and enhance students’ learning outcomes.”
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the opportunity to teach and interact with students, sustaining their curiosity and helping them along in their career paths. I love teaching and I have found it exceptionally fulfilling and rewarding,” says Dr. Motaref. “The primary goals of my teaching and mentoring include promoting the development of critical thinking skills by encouraging students to ask questions, and therefore inspiring in them a passion for discovery. I seek to enable my students to develop an enthusiasm for engineering, and to find the application of their learning in real-life examples.”
Despite the recognition, Dr. Motaref shows no sign of resting on her laurels. She continues to seek out opportunities for her own professional growth, adding new teaching methods to her courses every year. “I go to different classes and workshops, and then I come back and I make a plan to incorporate what I have learned into my classes,” she says, “Little by little, I try to improve my teaching and my classes.”
In addition to working to improve her own teaching, Dr. Motaref is distinguished by her mentorship of both students and other engineering faculty. In her role as Assistant Director of Faculty Development, she dedicates time to sharing what she has learned with others, working one-on-one with faculty to enhance teaching and learning and improve the quality and accessibility of engineering courses in the School of Engineering.