Cassandra Volpe Horii, the founding director of Caltech's Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO)—which since its launch in 2012 has played a central role in shaping the Institute's approach to education—has been promoted to the role of assistant vice provost and director of the CTLO. In this role, Horii will continue to provide leadership and advocacy that champions outstanding teaching and educational outreach, guides online and technology-based learning connected with the Caltech curriculum, and supports the educational initiatives and priorities of the Institute.
"Cassandra's efforts have yielded a cultural change in our approaches to teaching, which are now more evidence-based, characterized by up-to-date pedagogical practices, and integrated with diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities," says Cindy Weinstein, vice provost, chief diversity officer, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Professor of English at Caltech.
Horii joined Caltech in 2012, launching the CTLO with a vision of creating a level of excellence in teaching and education that would parallel the Institute's research excellence. The CTLO supports instruction and facilitates K-12 educational outreach under one umbrella: an approach that is unique to Caltech. Horii and CTLO colleagues have emphasized a foundation in educational research, innovations that are integral to Caltech's culture, and inclusive, equity-oriented practices at all levels. Horii and her team have created trainings, courses, and professional development programs for the Institute's faculty and teaching assistants (TAs), liaised with undergraduate and graduate student leaders on improving teaching and learning, and developed outreach opportunities that range from K-12 in-school programs to on-campus summer programs, often in close partnership with the Pasadena Unified School District. They have also designed and implemented an annual teaching conference that has become an essential part of graduate student orientation and organized TeachWeek, a program that celebrates teaching and learning at Caltech through a series of events, discussions, and open classroom demonstrations.
When the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated an abrupt transition to an online learning program, Horii and her team led the Institute's response in that arena, coordinating efforts across offices, launching a comprehensive academic continuity website, engaging faculty through the Caltech Adaptable Teaching Series, and overseeing instructional designers to help faculty reimagine their courses and methods of teaching. Horii also led Caltech's assessment of learning management systems to find the one that would best serve the needs of students and instructors, ultimately opting for a switch to Canvas, which now gives students a clear entry point into online course materials and provides faculty and TAs with a modern, flexible platform and the ability to integrate a wide variety of tools and approaches. With this support for online teaching, Caltech has been able to offer creative and engaging courses throughout the pandemic.
"There's no doubt about it: teaching during COVID-19 has challenged everyone involved, but at the same time, it has sparked new clarity about Caltech's distinctive approaches, positive changes in methods to invite student participation, and inventiveness that will carry over into future efforts," Horii says. "The conversation about the future of teaching and learning at Caltech and with our K-12 community partners has already begun and it's very exciting to consider what is on our horizon, particularly as we recognize that every educational encounter is an opportunity to make Caltech, and more broadly the research areas we represent, places where students experience belonging and are supported to push the boundaries of their thinking in new directions."
As a member of the Accreditation Steering Committee that led the Institute's recent reaccreditation process, Horii "played an instrumental role, helping to craft the core curriculum learning outcomes, leading faculty discussions of curriculum maps and rubrics, and contributing an in-depth assessment of CTLO that was a model of successful change driven by data," says Weinstein. "Her reach has also extended to coordinating our open on-line courses, helping to develop proposals for the Innovation in Education Fund, and serving ex officio on the Feynman Prize Committee, Core Curriculum Steering Committee, and Committee on Undergraduate Education," Weinstein adds. In addition to serving on the Committee on Reconstituting On-Campus Instruction and on the Resnick Sustainability Institute Education Committee, Horii is a lecturer in engineering, and will be offering E110: Principles of University Teaching and Learning in STEM this spring.
In 2016, Horii and the CTLO were awarded the inaugural Team Impact Award as part of the Institute's annual Staff Service and Impact Awards event. As one of the faculty nominators said at the time, "the CTLO has had a tremendous positive impact on the educational quality at Caltech. They have benefited diverse members of the community, from students who are taking classes, to TAs who are learning how to be instructors, to faculty who want to improve their class, and to anyone who is interested in outreach."
"Cassandra's broad knowledge and deep commitment to educational excellence have made CTLO a vitally important resource for the Caltech community," says Caltech provost David A. Tirrell. "I look forward to working with her in her new role as assistant vice provost."