This is a weekend for celebrating new UA graduates - more than 5,000 of them are receiving undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees, or are becoming pharmacists, doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

We congratulate them, and ask that they join us in saying thank you to teachers who helped them reach their goal.

If you haven't already done so, new graduate, visit, call or write to those special teachers and tell them what they mean to you. For that matter, if you graduated 30 years ago and still haven't said "thanks," do it today.

As a group, University of Arizona students have already honored one outstanding teacher - Guzin Bayraksan, an assistant professor in the department of systems and industrial engineering in the College of Engineering.

She is the winner of the 2012 Five Star Teaching Award, a student-selected prize sponsored by the Honors College.

Bayraksan, who became a teacher when she joined the UA faculty in 2005, said in an e-mail interview that teaching is satisfying because it gives her "the ability to change someone's life, however small or large it might be, without sometimes even recognizing it. I view teaching more than merely teaching a technical topic to UA engineering students. To me, mentoring the students is a big part of teaching. To be able to assist the students in their job/internship searches, their course selections and helping them with their projects is truly rewarding."

She said she tries to emulate the best teachers she's had - educators who are caring, fair and respectful, and who know their topics extremely well.

The letter explaining why Bayraksan was selected used words such as "stern and skillful" and "warm, outgoing and approachable" to describe her. It mentioned that she postponed her interview with the selection committee to help students who stopped by her office.

The Five Star Faculty Award was created in 1983 and comes with a $1,000 prize.

The UA also recently recognized four other teachers.

• Thomas Wilson, a lecturer in the department of soil, water and environmental science, received a Provost's General Education Teaching Award.

One of his nominators wrote: "His enthusiasm and passion for biology are infectious. He demonstrates critical thinking and scientific perspectives in ways that are evident and accessible. When you see Tom interact with students, it it evident that teaching and learning work two ways."

• Laura Gutiérrez, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the department of Spanish and Portuguese, also received a provost award.

"Her creative and investigative mind, in addition to her love for teaching and strong theoretical background, makes her a wonderful teacher, who not only attracts students to the field of literary and cultural studies but also helps them become truly competent thinkers," a nominator wrote.

• Vicente Talanquer, associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, was awarded the Koffler Prize for Teaching.

The UA's announcement of his award said, "His dedication to the field includes undergraduate level teaching, the development of new classroom and online teaching curriculum, the training of secondary school science teachers, the advising of chemistry education doctoral students, and contributing to the literature in the area of chemical education, as well as the development of online instructional materials that are freely accessible."

• Lester I. McCann, a senior lecturer in the department of computer science, was awarded the Leicester and Kathryn Sherrill Creative Teaching Award.

The UA said McCann uses podcasts and video lectures and developed a tablet-based slide format for notetaking.

"What makes Dr. McCann a great one," a nominator wrote, "are the ways in which he rises above the limitations that other instructors accept as insurmountable, adjusting his practices to address the pitfalls specific to the course material."

Congratulations to these five special educators.

Arizona Daily Star