Teaching Excellence

Early Career Teaching Award


Gail Zasowski Receives Early Career Teaching Award

Gail Zasowski, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, has been awarded an Early Career Teaching Award from the University of Utah. This is considered the highest teaching award for pre-tenured faculty and recognizes significant contributions to teaching at the university through new and innovative methods. The University Teaching Committee evaluates nominees based on a teaching portfolio, a curriculum vitae, letters of support, and student evaluations. This year the committee selected six early-career faculty from across campus for the award, including Zasowski.

“I am honored and grateful to the U for this recognition,” said Zasowski. “The U’s educational mission is being fulfilled every day in so many enthusiastic, impactful, and creative ways, and it’s very exciting (and fun!) for me to be a part of that.”

David Kieda, Dean of the Graduate School, Distinguished Professor of Physics & Astronomy, and Co-Director, Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, nominated Zasowski for the award. Anil Seth, Associate Professor of Physics & Astronomy, and Tobin Wainer, Research Assistant and Associate Instructor in the department, were among those who wrote letters of support.

Seth described Zasowski’s excellence in teaching and mentoring students, particularly within her research group.

“Gail’s approach to mentoring within her research group is very student focused. She engages her students not just about the science they are doing, but also by encouraging them to develop non-research professional skills from networking to writing. She regularly checks in with students about their career goals and is flexible in her assignment of student projects to accommodate their interests.”

Wainer noted her approach to teaching STEM classes.

“Through my work with Dr. Zasowski, I have come to learn that not only is she a brilliant scientist, but she is a model for how professors should approach teaching STEM classes. What sets Dr. Zasowski apart is her compassion for people in the department, her dedication to being the best professor she can be, and her willingness to expend exuberant effort to help others."

Zasowski, who joined the university in 2017, is an astronomer whose research focuses on understanding how galaxies produce and redistribute the heavy elements that shape the universe and enable life in it. She has taught classes ranging from introductory astronomy up through graduate-level courses on stars and galaxies. She has also mentored a large number of undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers through a variety of research projects that explore these topics.

In addition to her work at the U, she serves as the Scientific Spokesperson for the current generation of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an international astronomical project to collect and analyze data from stars, galaxies, and black holes throughout the universe. As spokesperson, she works hard to ensure that the functioning of the collaboration is efficient, transparent, and equitable for its more than 800 astronomers and engineers spread across the globe.

Zasowski was named a Cottrell Scholar in 2021 by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, which honors early-career faculty members for the quality and innovation of not only their research programs but also their educational activities and their academic leadership. With the support of that award, she is currently developing a new peer-mentoring program within the Department of Physics & Astronomy, called the PANDA Network. She, other faculty and staff, and a number of undergraduate students are running a pilot program this spring, with the hope of launching the full program for new physics majors later this year.

by Michele Swaner, first published @ physics.utah.edu