Former Ph.D. Student Receives Presidential Professor Award

Asha Rao with her award. Photo by Dr. Andrew Tag

Asha Rao. Photo by Dr. Andrew Tag.

The Department of Entomology congratulates former Ph.D. student Dr. Asha Rao as she was recognized with the 2020 Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Award.

The award was announced during the September Faculty Senate virtual meeting and is the highest honor bestowed on faculty members universitywide. Rao currently is an instructional assistant professor in the Department of Biology.

Rao earned her Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in 1996 and 2002 and worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Bradleigh Vinson’s lab and as a research associate at the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering lab.

Rao was advised by Dr. Bradleigh Vinson where her dissertation focused on the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) and its interactions with native ants.

Rao also worked in Professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Fellow Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio’s lab where she studied molecular aspects of mosquito water channels. Pietrantonio was also a member of her Ph.D. dissertation commitee.

After graduation, Rao continued as a postdoctoral researcher in Vinson’s laboratory and then transitioned into a teaching role at Blinn College.  Rao’s first  taught part-time as an instructor at Blinn College in 2010 and took a position as a laboratory instructor in the Department of Biology and then moved into classroom teaching later that year. In 2017, she was promoted to senior lecturer.

“Her passion is really teaching, even though she had not realized it because she was very much involved in research-publishing and in research related activities,” Pietrantonio said.

Along with Department of Biology department head Dr. Tom McKnight, Rao is a co-faculty advisor for BioFirst, a learning community that was established in Fall 2019 to provide academic success and service-related resources for first generation freshmen during their first year at Texas A&M.

She also was a key member of a joint faculty committee from the Department of Biology and the Texas A&M University Libraries responsible for the free, online Texas A&M OpenStax Biology textbook that has saved students in courses in biology more than $600,000 since 2017.

“I am incredibly proud of Asha’s achievements in the Department of Biology. The Texas A&M President Honor, the 2020 Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Award is a recognition of her talent and efforts,” Pietrantonio said.  “Asha is demonstrative of the impact her creativity, commitment, preparation of teaching materials and continuous education in the science and the art of teaching can have on her students’ academic performance.”

Rao was honored to receive the award and attributed her growth to strong mentorship and leadership during her career.

“I am both honored and humbled to receive this prestigious award and be recognized for what I consider to be ‘doing what I love.’ My professional growth is the result of the generosity of my superiors and mentors who over the years have shared their expertise, encouragement and wisdom, and my students for their excitement to learn biology and for keeping me on my toes,” Rao said. “I strongly believe that once you start teaching, it is mainly the students who make you want to be a better teacher.  Thus, I would like to thank all these individuals with much gratitude. I’d also like to thank my family for being an integral part of my incredible journey here at TAMU.”

Rao hopes to continue to be an inspiration to all of her students now and in the future.

“As I move forward with my desire to engage, challenge and inspire growth in my students, I will continue to mentor and assist students to appreciate science, see the world in a new light by making new connections, and succeed – not just in my introductory biology classrooms but also in BioFirst program and SPLC that I oversee,” she said.

Pietrantonio was very proud to be Rao’s mentor and hopes to keep mentoring young women interested in science.

“As the second tenured “female” professor in more than 100 years of this Department’s history, I always felt it my duty and responsibility to be an advocate for a diverse group of women scientists at TAMU and elsewhere. I feel proud to be Asha’s mentor and being a part of her success,” Pietrantonio said. “Together, we hope to inspire a generation of young, especially female scientists. The support and encouragement by Asha’s accomplishments at the highest level of the University further motivates me to commit myself and play a central role in our Department’s mission, to mentor and teach students to achieve and develop to their fullest.”

Rao will be formally honored at the 2021 Transformational Teaching and Learning Conference that is scheduled for May 5, 2021.

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