Successful and rewarding career paths are sometimes discovered rather than planned. Ara Austin, clinical assistant professor and managing director of online programs in Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences, discovered a love for teaching as an undergraduate student. Instead of pursuing a planned career in medicine, Austin earned a PhD in chemical education from ASU in 2018. Today, she oversees the blossoming School of Molecular Sciences' online undergraduate programs while maintaining a presence in online classes.
“Teaching is a vital part of being an administrator,” Austin said. “Teaching keeps you connected to the students, who they are, and what they need. I get direct information regarding what the issues are and what we can do to better support students and help them succeed.”
Austin’s passion and skill for teaching and her tireless efforts were recognized by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, awarding her with this year’s Outstanding Lecturer/Clinical Professor Award.
“Ara is amazing,” said colleague Barbara Munk, School of Molecular Sciences managing director of school operations. “She has more energy than 10 people and is one of the most organized people I know. She is dedicated to her students and is always looking for ways to improve her classes so students graduate with skills they need to be successful.”
Receiving this award is both humbling and motivating for Austin.
“I honestly feel a bit guilty about getting this award," she said. "I don’t think I’ve done enough for the students, and I’m not the best teacher at ASU. Rather, it motivates me to do more and validates that I’m on the right trajectory to help students achieve success.”
The award is special to Austin because she was nominated for it by her students. Her love for working with students and a desire to do more for them gets her up in the morning.
“Education is a two-way street; both sides have to put in effort," Austin said. "I wouldn’t be where I am today without my students and their influence. They motive me to be a better person.”
Austin also recognizes her career and accomplishments are in part due to the energy and contributions others have poured into her life.
“I couldn’t do my job so well without Barbara Munk. She is a wonderful counterpart and helps keep my sanity in check. She is monumental in letting me bounce ideas off her and helping me find the right solution.
“Another person I credit is Ian Gould. He really inspires me every day as a teaching professional. He was my PhD adviser and is a scientist who truly cares about effective education. He has a drive to help students succeed and always leads with kindness.”
The next step in Austin’s career begins this summer. She will be taking on a new position at The College as director of online engagement and strategic initiatives, where she will work to increase research and internship opportunities for online students, and to provide them with resources they need to better prepare them for their careers.
“Ara is the most dedicated and naturally talented instructor I have ever met," said Gould, interim director of the School of Molecular Sciences. "She has a unique ability to see problems from a student perspective, which allows her to adapt for their benefit. Her skills and talents also go well beyond the classroom, the way she has guided our online program has, without exaggeration, impacted and improved the lives of thousands of students who otherwise were excluded from college education. She is exceptionally deserving of this award!”