The College of Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA) has announced its 2021 College Outstanding Teaching Award recipients, Milan Dragicevich and Pari Riahi. Dragicevich, professor in the department of theater, and Riahi, assistant professor in the department of architecture, are celebrated for exceptional teaching, mentoring, curriculum development efforts and for their impact on students' lives.
Dragicevich, an actor and director, has been instructing and inspiring UMass Amherst students in numerous aspects of stage performance since 2004. His success comes from years of experience, a researcher’s drive to discover what works, and an educator’s dedication to sharing knowledge and fostering student development. Colleagues note and students appreciate the defined techniques and clear pathway his courses provide toward success. These methods are available more widely in his handbook, “The Persuasive Actor: Rhetorical Power on the Contemporary Stage.” Drawing inspiration and substance from classical and contemporary material, Dragicevich observes, “When students are rooted in the foundational tools of performance, they acquire wings to soar across any kind of theatrical terrain.” Student comments reflect this principle and highlight the impact he has on their lives and the role he plays in fostering their career aspirations. A graduate of and current master’s degree candidate in the theater department expressed appreciation for how “[Professor Dragicevich] helped me in amplifying my voice and seeing the importance of my voice and my words.” Another student notes how he “nourishes his students with such deep passion and drive for not only the craft of acting, but the love of the art and the love of watching his students grow and succeed.”
Riahi’s teaching inspiration began with one of her own academic mentors who she says expressed “sincere empathy for each and every student.” Using that approach in her architectural design studio and theory courses, she has amassed accolades from many students who cite her “enthusiasm for the subject,” “insight on architecture and the work that we do,” “passion and wealth of knowledge,” and ability “to meet each student where they are.” As a practicing architect, Riahi deliberately enhances “student-entered learning by keeping the subject matter relevant and grounded” and by engaging students in projects and tasks that are authentic. This is aided by her practice of “differentiated instruction,” where progress is based on a student's position along the design continuum rather than a set point. Riahi says she is sustained and propelled forward by her own students' “brilliance and their sheer hope, by their perseverance and their grit.” One student’s comment poignantly captures the impact of her teaching: “Pari’s mentorship has opened the doors to unknown and exciting possibilities for me, that both contradict and complement my pre-conceived ideas of architecture and where my career can take me.”
In recognition of their commitment to the art of teaching, passion for their subjects, and genuine concern for and interest in student success, HFA's 2021 College Outstanding Teaching Awards are presented to Professors Dragicevich and Riahi.