2023 Distinguished Teaching Award for Senate Faculty

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Prof. Ellen Sletten

Professor Ellen Sletten has been selected for one of UCLA’s highest teaching honors, the 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award for Senate Faculty.

Sletten 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 at the annual Andrea L. Rich Night to Honor Teaching event in the Fall.

“Professor Sletten is an exceptional educator. She receives praise from her students for her organization, clarity, and enthusiasm for teaching,” said Department Chair, Professor Neil Garg. “We are very lucky to have Professor Sletten in our department. Her receipt of the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award is very richly deserved.”

Sletten’s major educational contribution to UCLA has been enhancing the presence of chemical biology, with her long-term goal being the creation of a chemical biology major for undergraduates. Her first step toward this was developing a rigorous core chemical biology course. Prior to 2017, the “Chemistry of Biology” course was highly team-taught and largely run by the teaching assistant. This did not give the students a true appreciation for chemical biology. In Spring 2017, Sletten reworked the “Chemistry of Biology” course into a 10-week highlight of the important advances in the field. This course has become very popular with the undergraduate students. Sletten’s new course has also strengthened our NIH funded Chemistry-Biology Interface training grant and allowed us to create a chemical biology graduate track, which she is the graduate area advisor for. Most recently, Sletten has brought a chemical biology seminar course to our department highlighting thesis work from our chemical biology students and bringing in cutting edge scientists working at the chemistry-biology interface.

“As one of Ellen’s faculty mentors, I witnessed amazing devotion to students and their progress at all levels,” said Professor Ken Houk. “Both graduate students and undergraduate students are excelling under her direction. A talented teacher, Ellen has had a major impact on numerous UCLA students.”

Another significant contribution Sletten has made is the introduction of a course focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. She rebranded an existing graduate seminar course to highlight work for underrepresented scientists in STEM and discuss the challenges they have faced throughout their careers. This is the first course in our department focused on DEI and we are very fortunate to have Sletten leading these efforts.

“My experience as a TA for Ellen’s courses was by far the most rewarding TA experience I had at UCLA,” said alumna Dr. Maly Cosco (Ph.D. Organic Chemistry ’20), postdoctoral scholar, Stanford University, who was a member of Sletten’s research group and both a student and a teaching assistant for courses which Sletten taught. “During TA meetings, Ellen’s commitment to providing the best learning experiences for her students became evident. When constructing materials for the courses, I saw how much thoughtful planning went into each lecture, problem set, and exam to maximize student learning and success.”

Sletten received her B.S. in Chemistry from Stonehill College in 2006 where she worked in the laboratory of Professor Louis Liotta on the synthesis of alkaloid glycosidase inhibitors. During her undergraduate education, she also performed research in Professor Kara Bren’s group at the University of Rochester and Professor Neil Thomas’s group at the University of Nottingham. Sletten pursued her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley with Professor Carolyn Bertozzi where she received an ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Fellowship. Upon graduation in 2011, Sletten joined the laboratory of Professor Tim Swager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow where she worked with soft fluorous materials for use in fluorescent sensors.

In 2015, Sletten joined the faculty in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry as an assistant professor and John McTague Career Development Chair. She was promoted to associate professor with tenure, effective July 1, 2021. In July 2022, Sletten increased her involvement with our educational mission as our Vice Chair for Graduate Education.

Professor Ellen Sletten with members of her research group in summer 2022.

“As a mentor, Professor Sletten takes an inclusive and intentional approach to shaping graduate students into independent researchers,” said graduate student Emily Mobley, a member of Sletten’s group. “She is attentive to her students’ individual needs and structures her lab to prioritize developing skills in written and oral communication, resourcefulness, time management, leadership, and becoming an excellent experimentalist- all hallmarks of a great scientist. Importantly, Professor Sletten provides her students opportunities to give feedback on her mentoring, and have conversations about how to promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity at UCLA through themed journal clubs (each once per quarter). She also frequently engages the group in various outreach events in the community, such as Explore Your Universe at UCLA, with our custom made “photon booth” to encourage children to get excited about fluorescence and science.”

The Sletten group takes a multidisciplinary approach towards the creation of enhanced nanotherapeutics, shortwave infrared diagnostics, and new chemical tools to study living systems. Research within the group involves a mix of organic synthesis, fluorous chemistry, chemical biology, self-assembly, polymer synthesis, photophysics, nanomedicine, and pharmacology.

Sletten’s many awards and honors include the department’s 2020-2021 McCoy Award, which recognizes the researcher in the department who has made the greatest contribution of the year to the science of chemistry and biochemistry, 2020 International Chemical Biology Society (ICBS) Young Chemical Biologist Award, 2019 ACS Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Young Investigator, 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Fellow in Chemistry, 2018 Hellman Fellow, and 2018 UCLA Alpha Chi Sigma (AXΣ) Glenn Seaborg Award. In 2018, Sletten received a prestigious $1.5 million New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.

The Sletten Group has constructed a “PHOTONbooth”, which is a fun twist on a photobooth, which they bring to local schools and to UCLA’s yearly Exploring Your Universe, to provide an avenue for children to experience fluorescence first hand. The booth is coupled with demonstrations of household fluorescent materials and the creation of highlighter glowsticks.
Sletten is the 22nd 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.