Zufall Wins 2018 Butler Teaching Award

Developed Course on the Biology of Food

Every year, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics honors its best educators with the John C. Butler Excellence in Teaching Award. This award, established in the memory of former NSM Dean John Butler, recognizes faculty members who excel in teaching.

Rebecca Zufall

The 2018 Butler Award went to associate professor of biology and biochemistry Rebecca Zufall, who has a long track record as a dedicated teacher and mentor. This award is accompanied by a plaque and a $5,000 cash prize, with Zufall recognized at the UH Commencement for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

To be eligible for the award, candidates must apply, with faculty, current students and former students writing letters in support. As one recommender wrote, Zufall’s “goal is not simply to teach the material, but to teach students to think critically, to synthesize and draw meaningful conclusions,” while another recommender described her as an “excellent mentor.”

In addition to teaching courses in evolution, Zufall also developed a course for non-majors called “The Biology of Food.” In this course, students learn about food in the context of biological concepts such as biodiversity, physiology, cell biology, genetics and evolution. In support of this theme, students have gone on field trips to community gardens and local farm-to-table restaurants.

As one recommender noted, “The goal of a non-majors courses should be greater scientific literacy in the general public. By this yardstick, Zufall’s course is highly successful.”

In addition to classroom teaching, Zufall, who runs an evolutionary biology lab, mentored numerous students in research. Almost 40 undergraduate students have conducted research in the Zufall lab, while others have conducted their graduate school research under her guidance.

As a former student noted, “Dr. Zufall’s commitment to teaching and mentoring has had a huge impact on me and other students.” Another student wrote, “Her course changed my professional path and career goals,” describing Zufall as an “excellent educator who displays passion in her teaching, utilizes innovative teaching methods, and supports students both inside and outside of class.”

- Rachel Fairbank, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics