Two UTHealth Houston educators have been awarded the prestigious Regents Outstanding Teaching Award.
Robert D. Spears, PhD, MS, and Jennifer L. Swails, MD, FACP, were among the 14 recipients of The University of Texas System Board of Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award for 2023.
The honorees, faculty from multiple UT System academic and health institutions, have been selected for demonstrating extraordinary classroom teaching performance and dedication to innovation. Each recipient will receive a medallion, a cash award of $25,000, and formal recognition by the Board of Regents at its upcoming quarterly board meeting on Monday, Nov. 20.
“UT faculty members are the most critical factor in our students’ success, helping prepare Texas’ future leaders, job creators, and innovators,” said Board of Regents Chair Kevin Eltife. “The Board of Regents is proud to recognize their excellence through the Regents Outstanding Teaching Awards program.”
The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards were established in 2008 to honor exemplary classroom performance. Nominees undergo a series of rigorous evaluations by peer faculty and external reviewers. The review panels consider a range of activities and criteria in their evaluations of a candidate’s teaching performance, including classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development, and student learning outcomes.
Spears is the associate dean for Student and Academic Affairs at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry and a professor in the Department of Diagnostic and Biomedical Sciences. Spears came to UTHealth Houston in 2015 after serving as the director of curriculum and director of student research and as a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University School of Dentistry in Dallas.
In his current role as academic dean, Spears oversees educational programs for dental hygiene, dental, and advanced education programs. Major roles also include oversight of curriculum management and assessment, admissions, and daily student life issues. Within UTHealth Houston, he is actively involved in interprofessional education and student wellness.
“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” Spears said. “There are so many outstanding educators within UT System, and I am so humbled to have been chosen. I was raised under the belief that hard work is rewarded, and this is perfect proof. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible.”
Spears was awarded the John H. Freeman Outstanding Teaching Award from UTHealth Houston and was awarded Dental Teacher of the Year three times while at Texas A&M School of Dentistry. Spears is a fellow of the Harvard Macy Institute’s Program for Educators, a Commission on Dental Accreditation Site reviewer and on the Joint Commission National Dental Examination Committee.
Spears has served in several roles with the American Association of Dental Education, from which he received a Presidential Citation. He has also been active with the American Association of Dental and Craniofacial Research and was recognized as the National Student Research Group Faculty Mentor of the Year.
Spears is the primary investigator for the UTHealth Houston Summer Health Professions Education Program, a national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Currently serving as the program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, Swails is also co-director of Interprofessional Education at UTHealth Houston and an associate professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine. She joined the faculty in 2012.
“I am eternally grateful for the support and trust of my mentors, students, and trainees for their support and trust,” Swails said. “Without them, I would never have had the opportunities leading to this award.”
Swails served as a member of the Association of American Medical Colleges Core Entrustable Professional Activities pilot and the Coalition of Physician Accountability Undergraduate Medical Education-Graduate Medical Education (UME-GME) Review Committee. Swails has received grants from UT System, SHINE Foundation, and Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation for interprofessional education.
Over the course of her tenure, Swails has won multiple teaching awards, including the John P. McGovern Award, the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, and the Herbert L. and Margaret W. DuPont Clinical Teaching Award. She is one of the 16 inaugural members of the Champions of Learning Environment at McGovern Medical School.
Her work focuses on promoting teamwork across the medical education spectrum to improve wellness and patient care.
Read about this year’s awardees as well as past awardees on the UT System website.