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2016 Faculty Appreciation TN Today V0.1_150Our new Experience Learning initiative recognizes that learning is enhanced—and more enjoyable—when lessons are used to experiment, solve problems, and innovate. It challenges faculty to look for new and creative ways to work with students. As part of Faculty Appreciation Week 2016, here is a look at two College of Architecture and Design faculty members who “go the extra mile” in their teaching, research, and outreach.

Avigail Sachs

Sachs-220Avigail Sachs sees herself as much more than just a teacher to her students. She goes the extra mile by drawing on her own life experiences to assist her students in and out of the classroom.

Sachs is an assistant professor of landscape and architectural history and theory in the College of Architecture and Design. Her courses provide students with the opportunity to practice their presentation skills and composition in preparation for their future careers.

“Avigail has an important voice regarding how architecture has been and should be taught,” said Jason Young, director of the School of Architecture. “As a historian, Avigail helps our design students understand where and how their work fits into a larger lineage of design education. Additionally, she brings her interest in TVA into the classroom, which helps students connect the discipline of reading and interpreting the built environment with regional conditions that are either already familiar to them or can be easily accessed based on proximity. A gifted teacher, she fosters strong connections between her students and the subjects within her own research.”

Originally from Jerusalem, Sachs is able to bring a diverse viewpoint to the classroom. Academically, she also has a different perspective than the majority of her colleagues: she is a historian teaching in an architecture school.

“Being a woman professor, I think I’m a great resource for female students specifically,” said Sachs. “However, not specific to just female students is the fact that all students are in a place in their lives where they are becoming professionals and are seeking advice on how to do so.”

Sachs serves as the advisor for the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS), a place where students can express concerns and congregate with other students going through similar experiences.

She received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Technion, Israel Institute of Technology; a master’s degree in architecture studies from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and her doctorate in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.

Sachs, who has ten years of professional architecture experience and practice in addition to her academic experience, said teachers who are well versed in the ways of the industry should share that knowledge with their students to prepare them for the real world. Her courses may be titled architecture and landscape theory, she said, but she also teaches life skills necessary for entering into the professional world.

“What I’m teaching is ‘How do you go about this?’ with tasks that they will complete as professionals, even as far as professional dress and writing curriculum vitae and cover letters,” said Sachs.

An avid traveler, Sachs uses many of her own photographs to acquaint students with architecture abroad.

And, since many of her students are not from Tennessee, she also gets them out to explore the area. Each semester, she takes them on a trip to Norris Lake to examine the landscape.

Sachs said she looks for ways to broaden students’ horizons and make learning more enjoyable for them. Putting a personal touch on the visuals in class is just one example of how she seeks to inform them of the diversity of the world.

“Students would say I come to class excited,” said Sachs.

Liz Teston

Teston-220-altLiz Teston is a professor of interior design but ensures that her students see more than just the inside of the classroom.

Her current research focuses on the impact of healthy communities, cultural identity, and the everyday in the built environment. She translates what she gathers from her research into the classes she teaches on community engagement, design theory, and drawing communication.

“Liz is a fantastic instructor,” said David Matthews, director of the School of Interior Design. “Her approach in the classroom is distinguished by how she combines community engagement and teamwork as part of design inquiry. She gives the students critical space to define their own creative path, so they learn the importance of how community relationships can build and transform cultural meaning and enrich lives.”

Teston’s students go outside the classroom to examine the interior architecture of a building. Last spring, her junior-level studio course was a part of UT’s Smart Communities Initiative—a collaboration between UT and the city of Cleveland, Tennessee.

Under Teston’s guidance, students solved a real-life problem by renovating the offices of the Bradley County Health Department to better meet the needs of people in the community. This assignment was the first time Teston’s students presented their work to a client and explained why their design solutions were applicable to the organization’s goals.

“Giving students the experience of working directly with a client allows them to test the skills they’ve been honing in the classroom,” said Teston. “I enjoy contributing to their growth as professionals and seeing the aha moments learned in real-life experiences.”

Currently, Teston is launching a speculative project during which students will travel to Atlanta to help design an Alzheimer’s care center set in the year 2065. Their goal is to determine what a residence for people with memory problems might look like in the future and to incorporate design elements that will be conducive to a lifestyle for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Teston has a bachelor of fine arts degree in interior design from Savannah College of Art and Design and a Master of Architecture degree from Georgia Institute of Technology. She is an NCIDQ-certified interior designer and LEED accredited professional with a decade of professional experience at Atlanta design firms. She was on the project team for the award-winning AFLAC Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Her own work outside the classroom includes a project Knoxville Oral Histories, which explores Knoxville’s architecture through the memories of people on Market Square. She’s been interviewing Knoxville residents about the Market House that used to stand in Market Square in an effort to understand memory as an aspect of cultural identity.


 Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,