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August 4, 2009
By Skyler Dillon
Luis Loria is not your average teacher. Unlike many professors, he does not want his students to try to memorize everything he tells them.
“I know they won’t be able to take everything in,” he said. “I just try to emphasize what’s most important because I want to make sure that they leave knowing at least one or two more things than they started out with.”
That approach is clearly working for Loria, a teaching assistant working on his doctorate in civil engineering. He and Keith Dennett, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, received the Outstanding Professor award from the University of Nevada, Reno chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers this past spring. The award is the result of a survey given to 250 University students asking for the name of the top civil engineering professor. Loria and Keith Dennett tied for first place.
The fact that Loria’s and Dennett’s students hold them in such high esteem is no surprise considering the effort both put into their classes.
“It’s important to enjoy what you do,” said Dennett, in his 14th year at the University. “I try to interject humor where appropriate, to maintain a positive attitude, to not take myself too seriously, to guard against complacency, to keep trying to improve my performance, and to encourage others to give their best efforts.”
The students’ appreciation of their teachers’ hard work is evident in their comments.
“Luis was amazing,” said one of Loria’s Construction Materials students. “He’s by far the best instructor I’ve ever had, and very effective at engaging students with the material. I truly feel that his compassion and love for his students has enriched my experience in college and given me a new respect for this college in general.”
Forging personal relationships with his students is important to Loria, who ensures that he knows the name of every member of his class within two sessions and has been called a “lifelong mentor and friend” by his students.
“I want to make sure they not only get technical lessons, but ethical and moral ones as well,” he said.
Dennett extends his lessons beyond the classroom by taking students on trips to developing countries, including Panama, Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico, to apply their classroom knowledge by working on basic infrastructure water sanitation projects. His groups have built schools, clinics, septic systems and even rainwater harvesting systems.
“Those trips have been very rewarding experiences,” he said. “They provide opportunities for students to apply the topics from my classes to improve the lives of people with great needs, and I hope to continue them in the future.”
Like Dennett, Loria has found ways to incorporate different cultures in his classes. Loria received his master’s degree from Nevada in 2008 after moving to the United States in 2005 from Costa Rica, where both his mother and father are teachers. His passion for teaching was inspired by his parents, and some of his students’ favorite parts of his class are the stories he tells about life in his home country.
“I’ve found that even though I’m from a different culture, I can establish a lot of common points with students that let us learn from each other,” said Loria, who will teach at the University of Costa Rica when he completes his doctorate.
“It’s not a one-way relationship. I learn as much about life from them as they learn from me, and I think that’s important.”
For more on engineering at Nevada, visit the College of Engineering website.