2021 Distinguished Teaching Award for Senate Faculty

Posted on

Spokoyny photo small

Professor Alexander Spokoyny has been selected for one of UCLA’s highest teaching honors, the 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award for Senate Faculty.

Spokoyny is one of six campus-wide recipients chosen by the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Teaching for the award which recognizes academically and professionally accomplished individuals who bring respect and admiration to the scholarship of teaching. Recipients are selected from nominations received by colleagues and leaders across the campus and recommendations by students. The winners will be recognized by the UCLA Center for the Advancement of Teaching when it is safe to do so.

“Alex is a phenomenal teacher and mentor who is deeply passionate about improving education at UCLA. He is recognized by UCLA students as one of the best teachers in a department that is known for its rigor and faculty dedication,” said Department Chair, Professor Neil Garg. “Alex is also a revered and dedicated mentor to undergraduate student researchers. Over the past five years, he has provided personalized mentorship to nearly 35 undergraduate student co-workers in his laboratory.”

Spokoyny Teaching
At 2019 Bruin Day – Spokoyny (far right) with prospective UCLA undergraduates.

A true-Bruin, Spokoyny received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UCLA in 2006 where he conducted research in Professor M. Frederick Hawthorne’s group and was introduced to the area of boron clusters. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in chemistry from Northwestern University in 2011 where his work with Professor Chad Mirkin provided him with a unique multidisciplinary training in materials inorganic chemistry. He then received training in organometallic chemistry and chemical biology during his joint postdoctoral appointment (2012-2014) with Professor Brad Pentelute and Professor Stephen Buchwald at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Spokoyny joined the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty as an Assistant Professor in 2014 and quickly built a world-class research program focused on the chemistry and practical applications of organomimetic cluster molecules. His group’s research spans the board fields he studied as a Ph.D. student and postdoc, all of which are intricately interrelated and represent a global approach to chemical research. 

A passionate and committed educator, Spokoyny has taught five distinct undergraduate courses and two Fiat Lux seminars since joining the department. He has developed and re- developed all of the classes without any teaching reliefs while maintaining a normal teaching load. His dedication and commitment to undergraduate research are phenomenal and he has gone well beyond the call of duty educating and mentoring UCLA undergraduates.

Spokoyny’s chemistry courses have been actively engaging and educating large cohorts of undergraduate students by incorporating knowledge creation assignments including  writing articles for Wikipedia, mock grant panels and social media engagement. He led the effort developing the first general education undergraduate chemistry appreciation course for non-STEM majors that covers essentials of modern chemistry and materials science. This popular class aims to address a varying degree of “chemophobia” among the general public and Spokoyny’s effort is the first in its kind at UCLA addressing this.

Spokoyny has received multiple awards for his educational efforts including a Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar Award (2018) for his creative contributions to education in chemistry and physics, the department’s prestigious Hanson-Dow Award for Teaching Excellence (2019), and the recent Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2020).

Through his outreach efforts, Spokoyny has shown his commitment to bringing chemistry to the community, especially those who are under-served. He has been teaching chemistry to incarcerated students in Southern California prisons as a part of the UCLA Prison Education Program and his group has done extensive outreach for K-12 students. He was recently co-author on an article about undergraduate teaching and mentorship at UCLA.  In 2020, Spokoyny was featured on a Bruin Family Insights (UCLA Parent and Family Association) podcast discussing impact of Covid pandemic on undergraduate teaching and research.

His many other awards and honors include the UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Week Faculty Mentor Award (2020), NSF Career Award (2019), an NIH/NIGMS Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award award (2017), an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship (2017), the AXE  2017 Glenn T. Seaborg Award (2017), In 2016, Spokoyny was named one of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) “Talented 12” and he received a 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award (2016) and an American Chemistry Society (ACS) New Investigator grant (2016).

Spokoyny is the 21st Distinguished Teaching Award for Senate Faculty awardee from our department. Click here for the full list of recipients.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.