Faculty members rewarded for classroom engagement


Evan Bell

The Excellence in Teaching Award Committee recognized Robert DiFazio, Michelle Rafacz and Wenhwa Ts’ao (pictured) with awards for their strong teaching methods. 

By Campus Reporter

The college recognized three faculty members for outstanding teaching performance and engaging students in the classroom in an April 20 emailed announcement from Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden.

Robert DiFazio, an adjunct professor in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department; Michelle Rafacz, an assistant professor in the Science & Mathematics Department; and Wenhwa Ts’ao, a professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department, all received the annual Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes a professor’s notable classroom success. The awards were presented at an April 29 ceremony at the Faculty Center in the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

Christopher Shaw, chair of the Excellence in Teaching Award Committee and an assistant professor in the Science & Mathematics Department, said students and faculty selected candidates for the award by submitting nominating statements throughout the 2015–2016 academic year. 

“We’re looking for people who have demonstrated not only a consistent record of being good, effective teachers but also … people who are interested in continuing to develop their teaching scholarship,” Shaw said.

DiFazio, who has taught at Columbia since the Fall 2005 Semester, said he primarily teaches business and marketing courses about the music industry and has taught music production courses in past years. He said he likes the availability of programs for first-year students, such as his “The Business of Music” course. 

“[The department has] made available courses you would not typically have access to unless you were a major in that field or had several prerequisites under your belt,” DiFazio said. “Those are good results for students who are prepared to excel and work hard.”

Rafacz, who began teaching at Columbia in the Fall 2011 Semester, said adjusting from teaching science majors to art students has been a challenge, but those in her class engage her as much as she engages them. She added that this challenge has driven her to rethink the way she teaches her material.

Rafacz said to avoid the repetition of lecture material, she uses visuals, videos and research stories and creates activities to debate topics in the news that are relevant to the class material.

“Wherever I can, I try to have students spit back information in a way that they can relate to their own lives and how it might relate to everybody else in the classroom,” Rafacz said. “I try to take as many opportunities as possible to get students thinking about what I’m teaching and talk to each other and me about what it all means.”

Ts’ao has taught in the Cinema Art + Science Department since the Spring 2000 Semester. She said she has taught foundation, directing and production courses. Ts’ao also said she enjoys teaching the undergraduate foundations courses in the Cinema Art + Science Department with new students who are eager to learn.

“I really enjoy teaching levels of students who come from different backgrounds,” Ts’ao said. “It can be challenging but, at the same time, invigorating for me as a teacher.”