There are some teachers you just don’t forget. Nominated by alumni, these professors are among the best and most inspiring on the Forty Acres. Meet this year’s Texas 10.
Distinguished Senior Lecturer, History
A tough fourth-grade assignment sparked Penne Restad’s interest in history.
Restad and her classmates were tasked with memorizing the Gettysburg Address.
“Every one of us failed,” laughs Restad, PhD ’93, a distinguished senior lecturer of history. “I can still recite the Gettysburg Address, and I look back on that as the first time I was interested in the past.”
Today, Restad focuses her research on the formation of American cultural identities and behaviors, particularly at the intersection of gift and money economies of the late 19th century.
“One of the things that intrigues me most about history is the way in which it interacts with the present,” Restad says. “It is both fixed and gone, yet we find new things each time we look at it.”
It’s in introductory history surveys that Restad experiences her greatest challenge. “We all come in with certain preconceived notions about history,” Restad says. “I’ve had classes in the spring that are 50 percent graduating seniors, the majority of whom are business majors, engineers, and natural sciences. I try to get them past the idea that this is just a class they need to graduate.”
Restad tries to show her students how disciplines can relate in unexpected ways. “We can get to the Cold War, and I may have one of my science students explain the difference between fusion and fission,” she says. “As historians, we try and see where science and economics connect with American social histories.” —Jack McBee
Professor Emeritus, Astronomy
When Frank Bash started teaching at UT in 1967, there was only one introductory astronomy course. It was full of non-science majors hoping to get their required science credit while learning about black holes and supernovas.
Bash recognized that these were students who didn’t want to be bombarded by jargon. So he took matters into his own hands, penning a new textbook and reimagining how the course should be taught.
The class became his favorite.
“When I was a Boy Scout, we had to climb mountains,” Bash says. “I didn’t particularly want to climb the mountain, but it was kind of neat to know I could. I think the same thing happened in this astronomy class.”
Even after being named director of UT’s McDonald Observatory—a position he held from 1989-2003—Bash continued to teach the course. As a professor, he says, it was crucial to convey that he cared about his subject.
“Discoveries using the methods of science can be really beautiful,” Bash says. “It’s just like seeing a great work of art.”
And art is something Bash knows a lot about. As an undergraduate, he was a physics major with an art history minor.
That background in art has been useful when he studies star formations, spiral galaxies, and other “aesthetically beautiful systems” in outer space.
“The artist tries to express some truth, or some observation, or some insight,” Bash says. “We scientists are trying to do the same thing.” —Katy McDowall
Meet our other Texas 10 professors here.
Photo by Matt Wright-Steel.