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Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Award

Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Award

Since 2001, The Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Award annually recognizes four SMU faculty members for their notable commitment to and achievements in fostering student learning. These are teachers whose concerns for higher education go beyond classroom boundaries and often the boundaries of their own disciplines. In student mentoring, in discussions about teaching, and in continuous reflection about their own successes and ways to improve, they represent the highest achievement in reaching the goals of higher education. Guidelines for nomination and selection are here.

Recipients receive a $10,000 award and membership in SMU's Academy of Distinguished Teachers. For two years following the award, they participate actively with other members of the Academy in providing campus-wide leadership in teaching and learning.

Here are the 2016 recipients of the Award:


William Dillon has been a member of the faculty of SMU’s Cox School of Business since 1994 currently serves as the Herman W. Lay Professor of Marketing and Statistics, and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. He received his Ph.D. from the City University of New York, his M.B.A. from the Bernard M. Baruch College of the City University of New York and a Bachelor of Arts from the Hunter College of the City University of New York. 

Despite his role as the Associate Dean, which does not require him to teach, he chooses to teach as many or more courses than many senior professors. He adapted the Marketing Management course with new exercises, cases, and simulations. Students not only reacted positively to the course, they applauded his approach. His nominator described his dedication, “I have never seen any teacher of this course do so much for students…He goes beyond the call of duty in terms of both the quantity and quality of teaching.”

Both students and faculty think highly of him, as is reflected in their comments: “He is interesting and genuinely interested in teaching” and “His course was well organized and he was clear about his expectations for the course.” Professor Dillon has an open door policy with his students with many often lined up outside his office.  While his student ratings are often higher than the school average, it is the personal aspects that endeared him to students, and “contributed significantly to students’ marketing knowledge.”

In addition to his teaching prowess, Professor Dillon also excels in the area of research – among the top 30 most productive faculty in the field of marketing in the country until 2005, and continues to mentor junior faculty on numerous research projects. He is admired by his ability to do well in research and administrative areas, as he has served as associate dean for over 20 years and supervises academic and administrative matters in the Cox School.


Maria Dixon is an Associate Professor in the area of Communication Studies within SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and has been a member of the faculty at SMU since 2004.

Maria has won both the Golden Mustang and Rotunda Outstanding Professor awards, received recognition as a H.O.P.E. (Honoring our Professor’s Excellence) award eight times, and honored by the M Award, the Willis M. Tate Award, and the Phenomenal Woman Award.

In the words of her department chair, Professor Dixon is “an outstanding teacher, mentor, scholar, and colleague.” She believes that the classroom is only the beginning of the teaching conversation, and often engages with her students outside of the classroom, whether in a coffee shop, playing a video game, or holding office hours on the weekend. Her students think highly of her, as is reflected in her evaluations: She is “one of the most influential people in my life,” “She creates an environment of peace, laughter, and critical thinking,” and “Every class I have had with her, I leave with new friends because as she teaches – she unites!”

In addition to her outstanding student evaluations, she also helped to develop a teaching workshop for the department’s many adjunct professors. Her department chair says, “She serves in a teaching and mentoring role to students on other campuses, young preachers in seminary, and nonprofit organization founders and leaders in need of guidance.” Professor Dixon’s teaching philosophy demonstrates her passion for students. Dixon’s many endeavors inside and outside the classroom put this belief into practice.


Elizabeth Thornburg is the Richard R. Lee Endowed Professor of Law and senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the Dedman School of Law. She earned her J.D. from Southern Methodist University and her Bachelor of Arts from the College of William and Mary. She joined the faculty of SMU in 1989.

She has a demonstrated record of leadership through her directorship of the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Provost’s Task Force on Online Education. She is a teacher of teachers, supporting faculty across campus during her time at CTE and through the creation of resources to support adjuncts in the law school. Her efforts include training sessions, newsletters with teaching tips, and individualized time and attention paid to each adjunct professor.

Her evaluations and teaching philosophy demonstrates her growth and desire to continue improving with her teaching. Her recommender states that “she is an outstanding teacher who is committed to student learning, and because she is an engaged scholars who brings the knowledge she gains through her research and scholarship into the classroom.” Her student evaluations are extraordinarily strong, and her teaching ability is reflected in their comments, “Professor Thornburg is very thoughtful and tries to make sure each student has a grasp of the material,” and “She uses interactive lessons to engage using the materials.”

Through her teaching, research, and other activities, Professor Thornburg makes a substantial and continuing contribution to the growth and understanding of the law. In addition to her work outside the classroom, Beth continues to make an impact on improving the culture of high quality teaching at SMU.


Professor Gabriela Vokic is an associate professor of Spanish Linguistics in Dedman College. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Purdue University, and a B.A. from the University of Belgrade. She joined the SMU community in 2005.

Her department chair describes Professor Vokic as a CTE within their department.  She established teaching seminars, and peer evaluations of lecturers. Gabriela held regular workshops among lecturers to help foster best teaching practices, and has provided individual guidance to language instructors both in the area of Spanish and all other language departments.

Additionally, she has made significant contributions to the Spanish curriculum, by designing a linguistics track for the Spanish area from scratch. She visited all language classes and made recommendations to syllabi, exams, books, and student learning outcomes. She has an innovation and interest in improving teaching practice. Gabriela presents and publishes on pedagogy issues within her field.

Praised for her profound knowledge of linguistics and the Spanish language, her recommender describes her as “methodical, rigorous, knowledgeable, and a pleasant teacher. Her students think highly of her, as described in their comments,” She has the uncanny ability to elicit thought-provoking comments from students,” and she “is able to mold and enlighten the minds of her students.” Professor Vokic’s teaching statement demonstrates a sophistication around ideas for teaching language and how courses can influence how students view the world around them.