Computer Science and Engineering Associate Teaching Professor Mia Minnes has received the prestigious Distinguished Teaching Award from the UC San Diego Academic Senate. This university-wide award, given to only five members of the Academic Senate, recognizes Minnes’s commitment to excellence in teaching, her contributions to her students and to the importance of pedagogy and mentorship at the university.
“Mia truly embodies the dedication to teaching and mentorship that is so central to the mission of our department and of the entire university. I am pleased to see her commitment to students and her lasting impact recognized by peers across the university with this important and well-deserved honor,” said incoming CSE department chair Sorin Lerner.
Students and colleagues alike can attest to her influence on the educational experience within CSE and across campus
“The common thread is Mia’s recognition and development, in each individual, of an interest in some aspect of computer science instruction,” a recent CSE PhD graduate who worked with Minnes as a teaching assistant for several courses said in a nomination letter. “She meets people where they are and helps them integrate into a learning community. In this way, she continually improves the instructional quality and culture of our entire computer science department.”
“My students and colleagues are continual sources of inspiration,” said Minnes. “I am honored to have the privilege to work with each one of them.”
Minnes, who earned a PhD in Mathematics and master's degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics from Cornell University, joined the CSE department in 2014 and has made a deep impact in a relatively short amount of time.
In the classroom, Minnes is the leading CSE instructor for the large enrollment, theory-based courses in the CSE curriculum, including CSE 20 (Discrete Math) and CSE 105 (Theory of Computation). A colleague noted in a letter of recommendation that these can be challenging courses to teach because of their mathematical focus, which many students find daunting.
“Over the years, Mia has refined the structure of these courses to better engage and support students,” the colleague said.
There are other courses that she has influenced, such as CSE 599 (Teaching Methods in Computer Science), which she led the redesign of, and CSE 8A, the introductory programming course that she helped refocus.
Beyond CSE, Minnes has become recognized as an educational leader across the campus, and to the broader computer science community.
Her university-wide leadership includes partnerships with the Teaching and Learning Commons (the Commons) and the Center for Advancing Multi-disciplinary Scholarship for Excellence in Education (CAMSEE), a cross-campus group that brings together educators from many departments to look at how to improve teaching at UC San Diego. Minnes was one of the early leaders of CAMSEE and has served on its steering committee for several years.
A colleague who has worked with Minnes in those capacities remarked that through her leadership role in CAMSEE, “she has been a driving force in creating a community of ‘scholarly teachers’ who add to the body of knowledge in the field, benefit from the scholarship of teaching research carried out by others, and share the collective goal of strengthening the educational ecosystem at UC San Diego.”
“Dr. Minnes has clearly distinguished herself both in teaching excellence and in contributions to the community of educators at UC San Diego,” the colleague wrote in a nomination letter.
As two undergraduate students wrote in support of Minnes’s nomination, she is extremely involved in student organizations at the university. She is the faculty advisor for CSForEach, a student group that works toward increasing access to computer science education for underserved students in K-12 schools throughout San Diego county.
She also assists the Women In Computing club with their annual events, such as Girls Day Out, where she has served as the faculty keynote speaker for several years to inspire high school girls to explore the world of computer science.
“Professor Minnes has inspired both of us in so many ways we can’t count. She showed us that women can be professors, that they can nerd out about theory and math, that they can be kind and assertive at the same time, and most importantly, that we belong in computer science right alongside her,” the students wrote. “Our experience at UCSD would feel incomplete without her, and we know that many other students at the university feel the exact same way as we do.”
And that’s the high point for Minnes of being a professor.
“I am very lucky to be able to work with students at multiple steps along their journey. My proudest moments are conversations with alumni who were in my class as incoming freshmen, who I mentored through their internships, and who then worked with me as teaching assistants or in research projects,” she said.
“It's humbling to think back to the impact we can have as teachers to spark an interest in a field previously unknown to our students, to start difficult and important conversations, or to empower a student to lead a group of their peers and produce something amazing,” she said.
Minnes and the other Academic Senate Distinguished Award winners will be recognized at a ceremony at the Faculty Club to be held when larger gatherings are permitted.