Phil Kesten is California Professor of the Year

Phil Kesten is California Professor of the Year
Phil Kesten, right, with U.S. Congressman Mike Honda. (Photo: Daniel Peck)

Santa Clara University Professor Phil Kesten was honored with one of the top awards in college teaching when he was named the California Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education. The award was presented in Washington, D.C., in November 2005.

Kesten, chair of the Department of Physics and an associate professor, has taught at SCU since 1990. He is known for his innovative teaching techniques, as well as his devotion to his students. At SCU, he has been awarded the David Logothetti Teaching Award.

“He gets students excited about the material,” said his physics department colleague, Associate Professor Rich Barber.

“I’m always looking for ways to bring students into the enterprise,” Kesten said. “They can’t be passive.”

Kesten engages students by narrating interesting stories about electromagnets, subatomic particles, astrophysics, and the origins of life. For a homework assignment, he might ask them to figure out how much it would cost to cover the state of Nebraska in gold.

“Students regularly ask him to join them outside of the classroom to help them understand complex issues in physics,” wrote University President Paul Locatelli, S.J., in a letter nominating Kesten for the award. “He spent a Saturday morning discussing the physics of falling with a group of students before they left on a skydiving trip. And he spent an evening talking about the physics of ice with another group before a midnight trip to a hockey rink to play broomball.”

Kesten has also been very involved with SCU’s Residential Learning Community program, including serving as director of the overall program and faculty director of one program.

The professor is also vice president of strategic directions of Burlingame-based Docutek, a division of SirsiDynix. Docutek, which provides e-learning collaboration for students and libraries, grew out of a project Kesten started at SCU in the 1990s.

The CASE and Carnegie awards are considered the Oscars of college teaching. A professor is chosen in each state, along with four U.S. professors of the year. SCU Professor Francisco Jim´enez was named one of the U.S. Professors of the Year in 2002.

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