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Our faculty members, Profs Erica Rutter, Noemi Petra, and Maya Tokman win the 2022-2023 SNS Awards

October 23, 2023

Building Collaborations in Teaching 

This award recognizes a faculty member who reaches across disciplinary boundaries to build collaborations that support innovative research and educational opportunities. This year’s award goes to Emily Jane McTavish and Erica Rutter. Erica has been a part of many research and teaching collaborative programs since she started in 2019 including the Data Science Working Group, and the interdepartmental BII-INSITE Program for which she is a co- PI. Additionally, Erica is a co-PI on a UC-HBCU grant with Benedict College on Machine Learning and Mathematical Biology and is Co-PI on two Learning Lab Grants in Data Science Education with UC Berkeley and Laney Community College. I’m especially pleased that one of our newest faculty has taken on these leadership roles in both teaching and research.


Exceptional Service 

This award recognizes a faculty member whose unsung service has broadly benefitted the School of Natural Sciences. This year’s award goes to Noemi Petra. Noemi has served as faculty advisor for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Student Chapter at UC Merced since 2015. In addition to the herculean task of managing the chapter, Noemi created and has sustained the annual SIAM Central Valley Conference, which brings together faculty, researchers, undergraduates, and graduate students from nearby institutions (such as CSU Fresno, CSU Stanislaus, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and the Naval Postgraduate School) for a one-day research and networking conference at UC Merced. Finally, Noemi is working to create a new Northern and Central California Section of SIAM. An important part of the promise of UC Merced is that it will create new scholarly activities and opportunities in our underserved region, and Noemi’s hard work on these projects is an important step towards fulfilling that promise.


Innovations in Undergraduate Education 

This award recognizes an individual whose efforts extend beyond the walls of their own classroom and are propagated acrossSNS curricula. This year’s award goes to Mayya Tokman. Mayya led a group of 3 CSU Fresno and 5 UC Merced faculty in the development of a “Why, What and How” Calculus (WWHC) project that was funded by a $1.4M grant from California Education Learning Lab. The project reforms calculus courses by focusing on conceptual understanding and practical experiences with solving problems from authentic STEM applications. The data collected during the first two years of the project demonstrated that students taking Calculus in the reformed WWHC classrooms experience a number of positive improvements in psychosocial factors such as decreased math anxiety, increased math interest and STEM self-efficacy, and more defined STEM identity. This work, in addition to her central role in the founding and ongoing success of the CalTeach program, is having an important impact across our campus, and in our community’s K-12 schools. Also, those of you with young children probably know about the Kids Discovery Station on Yosemite Avenue which is another product of Mayya’s boundless energy in creating new educational opportunities in the region.