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Sonenshein Is Recipient of Inaugural Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award
Political science professor first recipient of the teaching award in recognition of his achievements in the classroom and community.

May 22, 2006 :: No. 253

“Never boring,” “very interesting” and “the best.” These are some of the recurring words students have been using to describe Raphael J. Sonenshein, professor of political science, since he began his teaching career at Cal State Fullerton in 1982.

This month, the university is formally recognizing the professor’s work as outstanding. Sonenshein will receive the Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award for 2005-06 on Sunday, May 28, at the commencement ceremony for those earning degrees in political science, public administration and criminal justice. He is the first recipient of the award, which will become an annual honor bestowed on a deserving faculty member.

Sonenshein was told about the award during a recent American government class he was teaching, when President Milton A. Gordon, Ephraim Smith; vice president for academic affairs; Thomas P. Klammer, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and fellow professors and colleagues walked in with balloons and a crystal apple.

“Raphael, you are truly an amazing teacher/scholar who provides a rich and rigorous learning environment for your students, whether they are first-time freshman or graduate students,” Gordon said. “Ever since joining the university family in 1982, your student evaluations have received the highest marks every semester. … You are an outstanding example of what excellence in teaching means.” 

Surprised by the announcement, Sonenshein said: “It’s a tremendous honor because of the high quality of teaching on this campus. This is a place where teaching is really valued. It’s especially great to have Carol Barnes’ name on the award because of the many contributions she has made to this campus, in the classroom and throughout the university. She has really been one of our leading lights.”

Barnes is an emeritus professor of elementary and bilingual education. In 1994, she was named CSUF’s Outstanding Professor, the university’s highest honor for a faculty member. Having served in many leadership roles on and off campus, Barnes also has been recognized as a distinguished educator on the state level and has received numerous other accolades.

Sonenshein’s accomplishments also are numerous. He is an expert on American government, urban government, campaigns and elections, racial and minority politics, and California and Los Angeles politics and government, and he often is called upon to offer news commentary. He created five political science courses and worked as executive director of the city of Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission from 1997-99. 

The two books he has authored, “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (1993) and “The City At Stake: Secession, Reform, and the Battle for Los Angeles”  (2004) are fundamental elements of his course on “The Politics of Los Angeles.”

He recently provided historical background about race, ethnicity and events that shaped Los Angeles politics and history for the PBS documentary “The New Los Angeles,” which debuted nationally last month. He also appears in the documentary.

Sonenshein’s honors include the Cal State University system’s 2005 Wang Family Excellence Award, Cal State Fullerton’s Distinguished Faculty Member for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2003, the CSUF Associated Students Educator of the Year for 2001-02, the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation Fellow for 2001-02 and the 1994 Ralph J. Bunche Award from the American Political Science Association for the best book of the year in political science on the subject of ethnic and cultural pluralism. 

In addition, he’s been the recipient of nearly $300,000 in grants and contracts.

Sonenshein earned his Ph.D. and master’s degree at Yale and his bachelor’s degree at Princeton, where he was a Woodrow Wilson School Scholar.

His selection for the inaugural Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award was recommended to CSUF President Milton A. Gordon by the university’s Outstanding Professor Committee, chaired by Jesa Kreiner, professor of mechanical engineering.

“Dr. Sonenshein has distinguished himself in all aspects of our university life and made enduring contributions by his superior teaching and involvement in the life of the community in both Los Angeles and Orange counties,” noted Kreiner.

“Raphe’s superb teaching is legend around here,” said Phillip L. Gianos, professor and chair of the division of political science and criminal justice. “It reached that status quickly, too, as his first cohort of students passed the word to other students, as personnel reviews affirmed it, as awards acknowledged it, and as time has reaffirmed it. … Great teachers make scholarship accessible and inviting; Raphe is such a teacher.”

His students agree.

Sophomore Adrienne Jimenez, who is attending Sonenshein’s American government class this semester, said he “makes me want to come to class because he makes it so interesting to learn.”

A sample of other comments, taken from anonymous student evaluations through the years: “CSUF is blessed to have such a wonderful and accomplished professor”; “Dr. Sonenshein is the best professor I have ever had. He is always enthusiastic and willing to answer any questions”; and “Rock on.” 


Media Contacts:

Raphael J. Sonenshein, 657-278-3837 or
Mimi Ko Cruz, Public Affairs, 657-278-7586 or

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