EDINBURG – Dr. Dagoberto Ramirez starts out his UNIV 1301 classes by asking his students three simple questions: Who are you? Where are you from? On whose shoulders did you stand on to get here?
Ramirez, lecturer I with the University College, is one of two University of Texas Rio Grande Valley faculty members to be honored this year with the 2018 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award by The University of Texas System, one of the 27 honorees across the System’s 14 academic institutions to receive the recognition.
Ramirez, a Roma native, has a deep passion for and connection with education. Ever since he can remember, he said, he always had a “want” to learn more and to become a scholar.
Ramirez worked in public education for more than 30 years while continuing his own education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1985 from then Pan American University, followed by an MA in 2002 and a doctorate in education (EdD) in 2013. Both degrees focused on Educational Leadership and were from UTRGV legacy institution University of Texas Pan American.
He began teaching UNIV 1301 Learning Framework at UTPA in 2014 and continued when UTRGV was formed. Adding to his course list, Ramirez recently began teaching courses in Development of Bilingualism, and Introduction to Mexican American Studies.
The University College focuses on helping students make a successful transition from high school and two-year institutions to UTRGV. The UNIV 1301 course centers around helping students “learn about learning.”
After years of working in education, Ramirez said, he became aware of the importance of finding a valuable connection with students to help them want to better themselves, and he made a conscious effort to create a functional environment in his classrooms by acknowledging the individual’s background and experiences.
“When I allowed others’ backgrounds and stories to become part of the classroom or workshop activities, whether about content or skills, the environment changed. It became more of a dialogical exchange between parties, as we were all learning and teaching each other,” he said.
In each of his classes, he stands in front of the room and asks students those three key questions. His focus is always on helping his students become better scholars and on leaving his class with a better sense of who they are.
Ramirez’s passions for education and learning did not go unnoticed and left lasting impressions on his students.
Jesus A. Reina, a former student and U.S. Army veteran, said many people advised him to go to college, but he never really took an interest in it. In fact, the only reason he enrolled at the university was because his girlfriend was willing to do his paperwork for him.
“I almost didn’t show up the first day of class,” Reina said. “Thankfully, I went, because that was when I met Dr. Ramirez. And because of him, I learned that I truly can control my future by controlling my efforts to better myself. I’m grateful for having had the privilege of experiencing the positive impact he’s had on my life.”
Ramirez’s students aren’t the only ones to notice his instrumental motivational skills. His colleagues noted the changes he has had on the university and its mission to become bilingual, bicultural and bi-literate.
Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, UTRGV associate professor of Mexican American Studies, said Ramirez made history by being the very first lecturer to offer the Learning Frameworks class in a bilingual format.
“One of Dr. Ramirez’s greatest contributions to the education of undergraduates at UTRGV is through student engagement, both in and out of the classroom. His classes all receive the designation as Service Learning courses,” she said. “He is a compassionate, innovative and engaging professor who gives his all to teaching.”
Winning the ROTA was a process for Ramirez, who worked long hours on his application when he found out he was nominated. He knew every space on the document counted. Now that he has won, he wants to help his colleagues.
“I want to encourage my colleagues to push other colleges to let them teach other classes. To be nominated, you have to teach at least three different courses. Many only teach one. I want to help my colleagues grow professionally, seek other teaching opportunities, because the things we do can be amazing,” he said. “There has to be more than one person from UNIV to ever win.”
Ramirez will be joining the other ROTA System honorees, each of whom receives $25,000, at a reception on Aug. 9 at the UT System building in downtown Austin.
A complete list of winners by institution is available at the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards website.