History Professor Wins CSU Award for Top Teaching Faculty in State
Cal State San Marcos history professor Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall has been honored with the most prestigious award that faculty can receive in the California State University system.
Sepinwall was announced Tuesday as one of five winners of the Wang Family Excellence Award. Each year, the CSU recognizes four faculty and one staff member for their “unwavering commitment to student achievement and advancing the CSU mission through excellence in teaching, scholarship and service.”
Sepinwall received the Wang Family Excellence Award for Outstanding Faculty Teaching. She was honored publicly Tuesday afternoon during the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach.
The other awards are for outstanding faculty service, outstanding faculty scholarship, outstanding faculty innovator for student success and outstanding staff performance.
Sepinwall becomes the fifth CSUSM faculty member to win a Wang award since it was introduced in 1998. The previous four were education professor Laurie Stowell (2005); arts, media and design professor Kristine Diekman (2016); psychology professor Keith Trujillo (2017); and music professor Merryl Goldberg (2018).
“I’m incredibly grateful for this recognition of my teaching from the CSU,” Sepinwall said. “I love to bring history alive for students and build critical thinking skills that help them be successful, no matter their career. When students understand history as lived experience rather than as a dry subject based on names and dates, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Sepinwall has been teaching at CSUSM since 1999. During her time at the university, she has won its top teaching awards – the President’s Award for Innovation in Teaching in 2004 and the Brakebill Distinguished Professor Award for overall excellence in 2014.
She is well known across campus for her creative and innovative approaches to teaching. She has held cookoffs to explore changes in eating habits for her course Women and Jewish History and gamified the French Revolution for the class Revolutionary Europe. She incorporates firsthand historical accounts like diaries, plans surprise “field trips” to campus locations such as the White Rose Memorial (which commemorates German students killed for resisting Adolf Hitler) and invites diverse guest speakers like Holocaust survivors and recent refugees. Her research on topics including the history of gender discrimination in France and early Haitian intellectuals became the foundation for a host of new courses.
“I strive to get to know my students and help them toward ‘aha’ moments, when they realize how history connects to their lives,” Sepinwall said. “I love bringing them information from the cutting edge of my field, where I publish on topics from the history of racism to historical video games. My classes challenge conventional expectations about history, recovering stories that have been pushed to the margins and allowing students to see themselves in historical narratives.”
Sepinwall extends her passion for history and teaching beyond the classroom, as she has organized more than 30 special lecture, performance and film events for students and the community; given more than 30 guest lectures and panel presentations for campus colleagues; and done more than 50 community talks, including a live interview with famed Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
Sometimes interactions with students end up informing her research. After students expressed interest in the subject of depictions of history in video games, Sepinwall became one of the first historians to write about it, and that work eventually became the basis for her 2021 book “Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games.”
As part of the award, Sepinwall will receive a $20,000 prize that is provided through a gift from CSU Trustee Emeritus Stanley T. Wang and administered through the CSU Foundation.
Sepinwall holds bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in history from Stanford University.