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Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, a professor at Cal State San Marcos, was one of five winners of the Wang Family Excellence Award. Courtesy photo
Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, a professor at Cal State San Marcos, was one of five winners of the Wang Family Excellence Award. Courtesy photo
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Cal State San Marcos professor named one of CSU’s top educators

SAN MARCOS — Cal State San Marcos history professor Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall was honored with a prestigious award for faculty in the California State University system, school officials said today.

Sepinwall was 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.”

According to the university system, it is the most prestigious award given to CSU faculty.

She received the Wang Family Excellence Award for Outstanding Faculty Teaching and was honored publicly Tuesday afternoon during the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach.

“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 a lived experience rather than as a dry subject based on names and dates, then I feel like I’ve done my job,” she said.

Sepinwall is the fifth CSUSM faculty member to win a Wang award since it was introduced in 1998. The previous four were education professor Laurie Stowell in 2005, arts, media and design professor Kristine Diekman in 2016, psychology professor Keith Trujillo in 2017 and music professor Merryl Goldberg in 2018.

Sepinwall has taught at CSUSM since 1999 and 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.

According to a university statement, she is known for her “creative and innovative approaches to teaching,” including holding cookoffs to explore changes in eating habits for her course Women and Jewish History and gamifying the French Revolution for the class Revolutionary Europe.

She incorporates firsthand historical accounts like diaries and invites guest speakers such as Holocaust survivors and recent refugees. Additionally, 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, the university said.

“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,” she added.

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 — 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.

The other awards went to Steve Alas, biological sciences professor at Cal Poly Pomona, for outstanding faculty service; David Blehkman, a technology professor at CSU Los Angeles, for outstanding faculty scholarship; William Hoese, biological science professor at Cal State Fullerton, for outstanding faculty innovator for student success; and Joy Stewart-James, associate vice president of student health and counseling services at CSU Sacramento for outstanding staff performance.