Monday, July 8, 2019

By Amanda Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Tiny, glowing balls of gas sparkle through the lens of a telescope on UTRGV’s Edinburg Campus.

Those balls of gas – more commonly known as stars – took trillions of years to become visible to the human eye. And that’s a fascinating fact one of this year’s ROTA winners has shared with countless crowds of stargazers.

Dr. Hyun-chul Lee, a senior astronomy lecturer within the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UTRGV, has been named one of two UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award winners for the university.

His goal is to inspire students to reach far into the stars and use their fascination with outer space as a guide for learning.

“Astronomy is the most important and fascinating subject, not just among the sciences, but among all endeavors,” Lee said. “Over the courses I teach, I help students build their own big pictures and ideas through the conceptual understanding of physical processes in astronomy.”

Hosting special events like star parties and Tuesday evening observing sessions using his personal, space-grade telescopes, it is no wonder Lee has been named as one of the 27 UT System 2019 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA) recipients.

Lee, one of two professors chosen for the award from UTRGV, will receive a certificate, a medallion and $25,000 in appreciation for their impact on students and their institutions.

The other UTRGV professor to win the award is Dr. Sue Anne Chew, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Biomedical Sciences.

Lee currently teaches astronomy courses ASTR 1401 and ASTR 1402. His pedagogical approach to learning for any course is focused on a big-picture concept, using methods like the star studies and weekly observations to spark interest to truly learn instead of simply retaining information.

“My overarching goal is the transformation of the students’ worldviews permanently and profoundly through the eyes of astronomy, instead of training them just to succeed in their exams,” Lee said. “In order to meet these objectives, I understand that making students actively engage in their own learning is very important, and I implement small-group learning activities, especially in large classes.”

Paloma Mia De Leon, a former student of Lee’s, said her professor is inspiring, and shared her favorite classroom quote by Lee: “I teach you all about the stars, but the real stars are each of you.”

“Dr. Lee sparked in me the desire to keep learning, to keep questioning, to keep delving into the mysteries of the universe untouched,” De Leon said. “Dr. Lee is not just a professor – he is a light in the world of academia.”

Dr. Mohammed Farooqui, interim dean for the College of Sciences, said students find Lee’s classes to be not only informative, but also challenging and entertaining.

“His classes are usually the first to get filled up,” Farooqui said. “Dr. Lee provides cutting-edge research opportunities to at least five undergraduate students annually through his own NASA Hubble Space Telescope Research Grant, Center for STEM Research Scholarship Program, NSF-LSAMP Program, and the Undergraduate Research Initiative and the Engaged Scholar Award Program.”

It is not unusual to see Lee gathered with a group of his students and community members, using his equipment to gaze at the planets. It is that type of wonder that keeps his students mystified at the concepts of space and the ever-changing technology used to conduct science studies.

Although Lee finds the ROTA award a happy surprise, he said he does not deserve it because every faculty member in his department is excellent. He continues to find his true strength through his students and their eagerness to learn.

“I pray every morning to seek wisdom, love and a humble mind to teach my students

better and better so they can succeed,” Lee said. “I believe my students will be able to help others with their successes. I dream that our world will become a better place thanks to the contribution of our successful and thoughtful students.” 

Awards for the ROTA winners will be presented to 27 faculty members from all 14 UT academic and health institutions, during the Board of Regents meeting Aug. 14 in Austin.

A complete list of winners by institution is available at the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards website.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.