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Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence

The Louis and Dorina Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes outstanding faculty who promote intellectual curiosity and active learning; model and foster intellectual rigor and honesty and a zest for learning; develop connections between course material and life outside the classroom; are available to students, attentive to their needs, and enjoy the teacher-student relationship. This award honors those teachers who, over a period of years, have made a real difference: those who have served as exemplars in the Santa Clara, Jesuit tradition of service, who have challenged their students in ways that have forced them to look at the world afresh, who have exerted a major influence over the intellectual and moral development of their students, who have, in short, made an imprint that is still felt in some way years after graduation.


For nomination guidelines, please see below:

1. Only students and alumni/alumnae may nominate a faculty member for the Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence.

2. All nominations must be completed through the Teaching Excellence Nomination Form

3. The following criteria are required for eligibility:

  • 10 years or more at Santa Clara University (the year a faculty member joined the University is given in parentheses next to the faculty member's name in the back of the Undergraduate Bulletin)
  • substantial teaching at the undergraduate level
  • has not previously won this award (previous winners listed below and right)

5. Once nominated, a faculty member stays in the pool of candidates under active consideration for three years.

6. The deadline for nominations is Monday, April 19, 2021.

  • Candidate's teaching promotes intellectual curiosity and active learning.
  • Candidate models and fosters intellectual rigor and honesty and a zest for learning.
  • Candidate develops connections between the course material and life outside the classroom.
  • Candidate is available to students, attentive to their needs, and enjoys the teacher-student relationship.
  • The candidate supports Santa Clara University's values, goals and tradition.
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    2021 Winner
    Michelle Bezanson, Department of Anthropology

    This honoree has been consistently praised for her holistic teaching approach. Students and colleagues have described her dedication to mentoring students both in the classroom and in field research, developing pedagogical innovations as a teaching-scholar, and nurturing students’ growth and development.

    Students are as passionate about this honoree’s self as they are about her teaching methods.  A colleague noted that the students’ love for this teacher results from her excitement for and excellence in primatology, anthropology, and art, and her commitment to fostering a safe and dynamic place to learn and grow--intellectually and personally.

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    2021 Winner
    Dan Ostrov, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science

    This honoree for the Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence has been called a “pedagogical pied piper” by his colleagues. His course design, planning, teaching, and outreach to students  were described as a tour de force. An alum noted that this honoree “sees the unique potential in each of his students” and encourages them to strive for excellence.” His mentoring of students has extended far beyond the classroom as he has supported current and former students in their work, their graduate studies, and their lifelong passion for mathematics.

    Colleagues and students have noted their ability to learn from this honoree, not only about math, but about teaching, innovation, and mentoring -- all while enjoying his great sense of humor.

  • Tonya Nilsson
    2020 Winner
    Tonya Nilsson, Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering

    In scores of nomination letters for Dr. Nilsson, current students and alumni describe unforgettable learning experiences, describing her in memorable terms: “Mentor,” “gold star standard” “challenging,” “inventive” “queen of real-world applications,” “embodiment of the three C’s” and “an engineer for the whole person.” They described classes where “everyone was valued, and everyone was challenged.” They recalled her advising and the ways she challenged them in class, at conferences, in senior design, and in service-learning experiences in Rwanda. They described how she reached out--in particular--to support students of color, first-generation college students, and women in engineering. Some said she challenged and supported them in ways they never experienced before. Others said her passion and commitment to engineering changed their lives. And still, others said all of that and more (and apologized for the length of their letters!). Account after account of extraordinary teaching exemplified the work the Brutocao Award honors. One department colleague summed up: “Tonya is the most talented, dedicated, and generous instructor I have ever known. We are fortunate at SCU to have her as part of our community of teaching scholars.” Indeed.

  • Diane Dreher accepting award
    2019 Winner
    Diane Dreher, English

    Diane Dreher exemplifies Cura Personalis in her teaching, from facilitating creative lessons and meaningful discussions to providing an environment where students’ passions and unique perspectives are valued. Under her careful guidance, students flourish. “She sees the best potential in others,” one alum said in her nomination, “and makes them want to achieve more than they might have imagined on their own.” Her influence spreads beyond the classroom, helping students not only deepen their knowledge, but discern their vocation in life. As one alum put it, “She listens without judgement, understands without pretension, and loves without conditions.” Colleagues praise her mentorship, particularly as a facilitator for the Ignatian Faculty Forum, but also for her interdisciplinary approach to teaching.

  • Brian Buckley accepting the Brutocao award with Father Engh and Provost, Dennis Jacobs
    2018 Winner
    Brian Buckley, Philosophy

    Brian Buckley brings great energy to his classrooms and department, engaging students with his passion for philosophy. Presents conceptually complex materials and expects high level results, his former students describe how he "ignites a passion for learning." His reputation for making thinkers and helping students learn how to self-analyze and question has led to a stream of new majors and minors since he began in 2007. In addition to his excellent classroom teaching, he also directs the University's Pre-Law Advising program and is the Faculty Coordinator for the newly launched Arts & Humanities Salon program.

  • Lisa Whitfield accepting her Brutocao award with Father Engh and Provost, Dennis Jacobs
    2018 Winner
    Lisa Whitfield, Psychology

    Her colleagues call Lisa the MVP of her department, she raises the bar for teaching standards and she generously mentors and supports other teachers. She is known for her attention to individuals, meeting students and advisees, having a real interest and helping as they navigate class, college and career decisions. Her style of teaching often includes more conversations and questions than lectures, as she delivers complex concepts that have real world connections to every lesson. Further, she engages students in research, presenting papers with more than 30 students in the last few years, further enriching the student experience. She has an extraordinary commitment to student learning and mentorship.

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    2017 Winner
    Simone Billings, English

    For over 35 years, Dr. Simone Billings has insisted on the very best from her students. Nomination letters (many!) described her demanding teaching style. One writer called her the “quintessential teaching model for rigor and honesty,” while another noted that “not every demanding professor is as beloved as Professor Billings.” She strikes a balance between high expectations and deep care for her students, who appreciate her because, as one alum put it, “she works as hard (if not harder) than she expects us to.” Simone's impact on students is not only a result of her teaching, but her guidance and encouragement throughout their time on campus and beyond.

Previous Honorees

2016 - Silvia Figueira (Computer Engineering) 
2015 - Shannon Vallor (Philosophy)
2014 - Patti Simone (Psychology)
2013 - Jeff Zorn (English)
2012 - Scott LaBarge (Philosophy and Classics)
2011 - Chuck Powers (Sociology)
2010 - Brian McNelis (Chemistry)
2009 - William J. Prior (Philosophy)
2008 - David Pinault (Religious Studies)
2007 - Eileen Elrod (English)
2006 - Phil Kesten (Physics)
2005 - Marilyn Fernandez (Anthropology and Sociology)
2004 - John Heath (Classics)
2003 - Linda Brunauer (Chemistry)
2002 - Rose Marie Beebe (Modern Language and Literature)
2001 - Bill Greenwalt (Classics)
2000 - Mario Belotti (Economics)
1999 - M. Ann Brady (English)
1998 - Robert Senkewicz, S.J. (History)
1997 - Fred D. White (English)
1996 - Steven C. Chiesa (Civil Engineering)
1995 - Robert J. Pfeiffer (Chemistry)
1994 - Frederick J. Parrella (Religious Studies)
1993 - George F. Giacomini, Jr. (History)
1992 - Eric O. Hanson (Political Science)
1991 - Eugene J. Fisher (Mechanical Engineering)
1990 - Carolyn A. Mitchell (English)
1989 - Timothy O'Keefe (History)
1988 - Gerald E. Markle (Applied Mathematics)
1987 - Theodore J. Mackin, S. J. (Religious Studies)