2022 Distinguished Teaching Award

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Zachary Gvildys

Ph.D. student Zachary Gvildys (Bruinsma and Gelbart/Knobler groups) is one of only five UCLA Ph.D. students selected for the 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award for Teaching Assistants.

According to the Academic Senate Committee on Teaching, Gvildys was selected for the award from a large field of extraordinary nominees campus-wide. The award is a tribute to Gvildys’ accomplishments as a teacher and to his students’ and professors’ appreciation of his achievements. 

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in physical chemistry from UCLA in 2017, Gvildys joined the department’s chemistry Ph.D. progam. He works jointly in the experimental group of Professors Bill Gelbart and Charles Knobler and with the theoretical group of Professor Robijn Bruinsma, carrying out analytical and computational studies of RNA-protein interactions and virus self-assembly. As a teaching assistant in the department, Gvildys has taught a broad spectrum of classes, from first-year undergraduate classes to the most abstract and conceptually demanding upper-division classes, while consistently receiving very high student evaluation scores and maintaining a high GPA. 

Co-advisor Professor William Gelbart said of Gvildys, “More than any other TA I’ve worked with, Zach has the natural inclination and the honed skills for identifying with and connecting with his students, always determined to get and keep them engaged in the challenge of learning science, no matter what the class’s level.  His goal – and he succeeds dramatically – is to bring the students to a point where they themselves are striving to find new ways of explaining and mastering fundamental ideas and experimental techniques. Zach exudes a modesty and openness that is palpable and conspicuously welcoming: even the least confident students shed their insecurities and mental blocks and “buy into” his generous and eager readiness – indeed, determination – to teach them in whatever ways they need to learn.”

“I found Zach to be a smart, energetic, and original TA,” said Professor David Bensimon.“He devised novel and highly effective ways to address difficult issues, consistently succeeding at keeping the students engaged and eager even as he pushed them to their limits. Zach performed so well because, for such a young researcher, he has a very extensive teaching experience and because he cares so deeply about the importance of teaching and the difference teachers can make in the lives of their students.”

In addition to a passion for teaching, Gvildys is committed to diversity and inclusion and has devoted a great deal of concerted time and energy to working with many groups of high school students and teachers through California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI)-sponsored programs on campus. In particular, he has been involved at a predominantly Hispanic charter high school (the Alliance William & Carol Ouchi High School) in Ingelwood, where he personally mentored many students and eased their transition to four-year colleges. In recognition of these efforts and achievements Gvildys received the department’s 2019 Hanson-Dow Teaching Award for excellence in teaching, and the 2020 UCLA Graduate Council’s Diversity Fellowship for his exceptional commitment to diversity.

About the Distinguished Teaching Award for Teaching Assistants

The goal of the UCLA Academic Senate Teaching Award is to increase awareness of UCLA’s leadership in teaching and public service by honoring individuals who bring respect and admiration to the scholarship of teaching. By recognizing teachers for their achievements, the award gives parents, donors and others insight to what makes UCLA “a beacon of excellence in higher education.” These awards are an effective way to boost morale on campus and provide role models for faculty and students.

Gvildys joins several other former UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry graduate students who have received the honor over the last 47 years. Previous winners include:

2021 – Cheylene Tanimoto – newly minted Ph.D. Spring 2021
2019 – Katharine “KJ” Winchell – now an Assistant Teaching Professor at Gannon University.
2018 – Devon Widmer – Now living in Hawaii, developing chemistry teaching software, helping her husband run his business, and raising their future-scientist daughter.
2017 – Matthew Fontana – now a Chemistry Instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College.
2015 – Zhao Li – now a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pomona College.
2014 – Rees Garmann – now an Assistant Professor at San Diego State University.
2007 – Sadaf Sehati – now a chemistry professor at Pierce College.
2004 – Jerome-Ieronymos Zoidais – now a researcher in the Biotechnology Division of the Biomedical Research Foundation, Academy of Athens (BRFAA).
2000 – Dean Tantillo – now a chemistry professor at UC Davis.
1999 – David Klein – now an author and senior chemistry lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.
1995 – Nate Brandstater – now president of Kettering College.
1978 – Rosemarie Szostak – now a senior analyst at Nerac.
1976 – Hsi-Chao Chow
1975 – Wayne Evans

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