Checking In With Chancellor May: Appreciating Our World-Class Faculty

Professor Jay Stachowicz teaching in lecture hall.
Professor Jay Stachowicz recently won the Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Checking In With Chancellor May: Appreciating Our World-Class Faculty

To the UC Davis community:

With the winter quarter racing toward midterms, our libraries, labs and coffee shops are buzzing with students digging deep into their courses. Researchers are focused in their offices and labs, methodically searching for the next breakthrough that will propel their work forward.

I’m inspired by this energy on our campuses, and as an engineer, I know that producing energy depends on catalysts to unlock potential. And there are no better catalysts than the UC Davis faculty.

Over 50 UC Davis professors belong to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and dozens more are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, or AAAS. I am proud to be a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the AAAS. These appointments are among the most prestigious in the academic world and a recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in research.

Faculty are partners with our community, engaged in public service to make a positive impact. That includes our nationally acclaimed Healthy Davis Together initiative, outreach programs providing veterinary careadvancing equity in education for K-12 students and many more projects that improve the lives of people in our community.

UC Davis would not be the world-class university it is without the contributions of our professors and researchers. They are role models and mentors who guide our students through challenging discussions and center them as leaders in research.

Our faculty know that students learn best when combining theory with practical application. Our students are not passive recipients of knowledge, but active partners engaging in making meaning and developing understanding.

Over half of our students conduct research and creative projects outside of the classroom, and we are aiming for 100% of our students to graduate with at least one of these experiences.

Faculty are leaders — and partners — in research and teaching, and it’s important to take this opportunity to recognize their impact on our campuses and beyond.

Building a better world

Our research faculty undertakes work that both reveals and shapes the world.

For the second year in a row, UC Davis was one of fewer than 20 public universities in the country to exceed $1 billion in external research funds. These awards fuel research that advances human and animal health, exposes the root causes of our most vexing social issues and builds a more sustainable future.

While credit for this funding extends to many researchers across our campuses, crossing the $1 billion threshold reflects the creativity and innovation of our faculty, whose projects engage students in problem-solving opportunities that teach as they transform.

Our research faculty are tackling the largest questions and probing the benefits of the smallest particles. Whether it’s a team exploring the possibility of conversations with humpback whales in the Arctic or researchers developing nanotechnology solutions that will diagnose cancer in seconds, UC Davis faculty are not only helping us understand the world but making it more livable and just.

A few recent examples highlight the transformative power of this research.

Kevin Gee, a professor in the School of Education, collaborated with two UC Davis Ph.D. candidates to publish a policy brief examining how the COVID-19 pandemic revealed — and even deepened — inequity at the heart of the education system. His work provides a vital foundation for ongoing policy efforts to address the learning loss that affected so many students during the pandemic.

Diana Farmer, chair of the UC Davis Department of Surgery, is the first UC Davis Health faculty member named to a leadership role in the National Academy of Medicine. As one of the nation’s leading researchers in fetal surgery, she is leading a team of bioengineers and surgeons in the world’s first clinical trial with human patients to treat spina bifida in utero with stem cells. This breakthrough promises to improve the lives of thousands of children every year.

School of Law Professor Irene Joe, recently named a Chancellor's Fellow, is producing groundbreaking research about the challenge that public defense attorneys face: representing people at some of the most challenging moments in their lives without adequate resources. Her research will address how the legal system can better support the lawyers and support staff struggling to do this vital work and analyze international systems to inform U.S. policymakers about making our public defender system more just.

Building the classrooms of the future today

Our faculty members understand their role is to find the sweet spot between challenging students and offering support. They are guides and mentors who help Aggies unlock their potential as thinkers, entrepreneurs and activists empowered to transform the world for the better.

Professor Jay Stachowicz, who recently won the Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement, may have put it best when he described how professors keep classes relevant for students: “You have to be part showman, part coach, part cheerleader.”

Our professors of teaching, who prioritize instruction, curricular development and course innovation, engage students with classroom experiences that reflect both a changing world and student body. They remind us to “pay close attention to both how we teach and what we teach” and “how our students learn and how well.”

Ali Moghimi, assistant professor of teaching from Biological and Agricultural Engineering, knows that courses must do more than offer the latest data, robotics, digital technology and AI. His courses use tools like controllable “smart pots” to challenge students to develop and analyze optimal growing environments, the kind of innovative thinking required to solve the complex problems we must overcome to sustainably feed the world.

Julia Chamberlain, an associate professor of teaching in the Department of Chemistry, has taught over 6,600 students in general chemistry at UC Davis since 2015. As she reflects on her pedagogy, she asks a pair of simple, powerful questions: “Why is learning chemistry hard?” and “How can we make it easier?” She and colleagues recently won a $1 million grant to decrease achievement gaps for general chemistry students in a hybrid, adaptive learning environment.


Through research and teaching, UC Davis faculty members are unlocking the potential in our students and improving the world we share.

I want to extend my gratitude to our faculty members for their commitment. And I’d like to encourage those of you reading — whether you’re a current Aggie or an alum — to take a moment to thank a professor who is a catalyst in your life.

I know they’ll appreciate it.


Gary S. May

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