| Political science professor first recipient of the teaching award in recognition of his achievements in the classroom and community.
June 15, 2006
by Mimi Ko Cruz
“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 1982, when he began his teaching career at Cal State Fullerton.
The veteran professor was honored last month as the inaugural recipient of the Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award for 2005-06. He was formally recognized for the achievement on May 28, at the commencement ceremony for political science, public administration and criminal justice.
Sonenshein was surprised with the news about 10 days earlier during an American government class he was teaching. 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.”
“It’s a tremendous honor because of the high quality of teaching on this campus,” Sonenshein said. “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, an emeritus professor of elementary and bilingual education, was the university’s Outstanding Professor Award recipient in 1994. Having served in many leadership roles on and off campus, Barnes also has been recognized as a distinguished educator on the state level and been honored with many other accolades.
Sonenshein’s accomplishments also are numerous. He is an expert on American and urban government, campaigns and elections, racial and minority politics. As an authority on California and Los Angeles politics and government — he served as executive director of the city of Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission from 1997 to 1999 — he is often called upon to offer news commentary. On campus, he has created five political science courses.
The books he’s written, “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 in April. He also appears in the documentary.
Sonenshein’s honors include Cal State University’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 doctorate and master’s degree at Yale University 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 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,” Kreiner noted.
“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, a student in Sonenshein’s spring American government class, said he “makes me want to come to class because he makes it so interesting to learn.”
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.”
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