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Foss receives prestigious UT System teaching award

Frank Foss, associate professor in the UTA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Frank Foss, associate professor in the UTA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Frank Foss, associate professor in the UTA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is among University of Texas System educators recognized with the Board of Regents highest honor, the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards for excellence in the classroom.

With a monetary award of $25,000, these awards are among the largest in the nation for recognizing outstanding faculty performance. Winners are chosen based on rigorous evaluations by students, peer faculty and external reviewers of teaching performance, including classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes.

“It’s an honor to receive the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award,” Foss said. “Many colleagues in the department, college, and across campus have mentored me over the years, sharing their experiences, discussing pedagogy, and talking about education at UTA. I know their dedication to education is reflected in the best parts of my teaching and I’m really enjoying the work we’re doing now to improve the educational experience and preparation of chemistry and biochemistry students.

“Ultimately, it is the students’ engagement and willingness to improve the learning environment that makes what we do possible.”

Foss is joined by Regina Urban, clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, as UTA recipients of the award for 2018.

“Professors Foss and Urban exemplify excellence in teaching and dedication to ensuring that our students receive a transformational educational experience,” UTA President Vistasp Karbhari said. “I am extremely proud of them and the tremendous impact they are having on the success of our students. I’m pleased that the UT System Board of Regents is honoring them for their commitment to excellence.”

UT System Board of Regents Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said, “We are indebted to these educators who exemplify great teaching on every level. These are educators, researchers and health care professionals who – no matter how long they’ve been teaching – never stop thinking about new and innovative ways to enhance the learning experience.”

Foss is the 16th College of Science faculty member to receive the UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award since it was created in 2008. This award is the latest to honor Foss’ dedication to teaching. He received the UTA Presidents Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014, and in 2015 he was selected for the UTA Outstanding Honors College Faculty Award.

“This is a tremendous honor for Dr. Foss and one of which he is most worthy,” College of Science Dean Morteza Khaledi said. “His commitment to teaching, and to developing innovative ways to educate students, is inspiring and is a superb example of the type of transformative educational experience we strive to offer students in the College of Science.”

In December 2017, Foss helped launch a new department program for chemistry majors called the Advanced Chemical Technology (ACT) track. One of the primary goals of the program is to convert traditional lab courses into inquiry-based lab courses, which emphasize synthesis and analysis – two aspects common to most areas of chemistry. The program began with a small cohort of students but starting this fall, all chemistry-related majors will participate in the ACT track.

“In addition to learning scientific techniques and theories, students in the ACT program learn research methods, collaboration, and communication in an environment that is a lot more engaging — and in my opinion, much more fun and rewarding — than the traditional recipe-based chemistry labs I experienced as a student,” Foss said. “The students in our pilot program were challenged and excited by the ability to meet industry professionals, select their own research projects, and discuss research results as one would in a research laboratory.

“Eventually, the program will be made up of a larger community of learners, composed of cohorts of students at various stages of their education, collaborating together on experiments that culminate in a capstone research experience.”

Foss came to UTA in 2008 and rose to the rank of associate professor in 2014. He previously served as a post-doctoral research scientist at Columbia University where he studied artificial enzymes and nanoscale materials for electron transport. He received a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Richmond in 1999 and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Virginia in 2006.

Foss’ laboratory designs functional organic molecules, which currently include biomimetic catalysts, molecular sensors, and potential medicines. Biomimetic catalyst design in his laboratory involves mimicking the reactions found in nature to perform important synthetic transformations in a sustainable manner. Sensors are currently being developed for collaborations in two important areas: to improve the detection of events in particle physics and to detect the presence of infective species. The laboratory also collaborates to investigate enzymes and their targets, through their interaction with small molecules, to understand their function and potential for new drug development.