NSF names eight distinguished teaching scholars


Agency's top awards for teaching and research cover the 'nuts and bolts' to pure theory

ARLINGTON, Va.-- The National Science Foundation (NSF) today recognized eight special persons to receive the Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars (DTS), the foundation's highest honor for teaching and research excellence.

Whether it's showing undergraduate engineering students how to take apart photocopiers to learn about design, teaching calculus through visualization techniques, or providing virtual research and data gathering opportunities on climate change, the new teaching scholars NSF named today are wide- ranging in their approaches.

"These scholars have a special distinction in that they influence entire academic cultures. They make students major participants in the process of discovery. They also promote activities that expand the education process beyond the boundaries of the university into local schools and communities," said NSF's acting director, Arden L. Bement, Jr. "They are true leaders in both the scientific and academic realms. Their pioneering research, already well recognized, is equaled, and sometimes surpassed, by a rare talent and commitment to communicate and teach knowledge."

Worth about $300,000 to each scholar over the next four years, the DTS awards represent NSF's finest examples of accomplishments by scientists and engineers whose roles as educators and mentors are as important as the ground- breaking research results they achieve. The grants allow the scholars to work on new projects, or continue present work in new ways that benefit their individual fields and the students they support.

Alice M. Agogino, of the University of California, Berkeley, Susan E. Powers, of Clarkson University in New York, and David F. Ollis of North Carolina State University were named today for three of the eight DTS awards. All are engineers representing widely varying research areas, institutional types and geographic locations.

Agogino, a mechanical engineer at a UC research and academic powerhouse, is an expert in computational design, diagnostics and monitoring systems. But it's her multimedia case studies of engineering design and two digital libraries she developed to promulgate science and technology courseware that have reached and encouraged students at all levels.

Powers, an environmental engineer from a small, private school of only 3,000 students, has been at the forefront of studies on physical and chemical contaminants in fuels and other complex mixtures. Her transfer of knowledge to students through a successful Graduate Teaching Fellows (GK- 12) program, allowing graduate students to serve as resources in elementary and secondary schools, has significantly increased numbers of women majoring in engineering. And she has provided a "real world environment" teaching climate within her engineering courses.

Ollis, a chemical engineer from a large public university in the Southeast, has received broad international acclaim for research in biotechnology and photocatalysis, while also enjoying a reputation as one of the most influential educators in his field. Ollis' textbook, Biochemical Engineering Fundamentals, was the dominant text in its area for a decade. His "take apart" courses are but one in a wide ranging group of his creations that include hands-on experiments, workshops and seminars.

Thomas F. Banchoff, a Brown University mathematician, Dean A. Zollman, a physicist at Kansas State University, Julio J. Ramirez, a neuroscientist from Davidson College in North Carolina, Walter C. Oechel, an earth systems scientist from San Diego State University, and Kenneth G. Tobin, an urban educator from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center were also named to receive the NSF teaching scholar awards.

Banchoff, a mathematician and professor at Brown since 1967, has been influential in his pioneering geometry work on smooth and polyhedral surfaces beyond the third dimension. His seminal paper in which he was the first to show the importance of tautness on smooth surfaces influenced many follow-on writings. He has also written more than a dozen articles about the use of computer graphics in teaching and research. His use of visualization techniques has drawn many students into mathematics, teaching and computer graphics professions.

Zollman, who heads Kansas State's Physics Department has taken his vast knowledge of physics and focused on physics education research and curriculum development. He emphasizes the use of technology in physics teaching, and his influence across the entire physics field has been felt by undergraduate and graduate students alike. Yet, he is even more widely recognized for his work in teaching physics to non-physics majors and future K-12 teachers.

Ramirez, a neuroscientist, has received funding from NSF and others for his work in exploring the recovery of memory after an injury to the central nervous system. He has involved undergraduates in his research, many of whom have co-authored his many scientific papers. He founded a national organization to promote and enhance neuroscience education for undergraduate students and to be a resource for neuroscience educators.

Oechel's extensive work on CO2 on every continent except Antarctica has had important implications for understanding global warming. His efforts impact virtually every aspect of research on climate change and ecosystems science. His use of cutting-edge technology has provided near real-time ecophysiological data on the Web for many K-20 classrooms, and he has developed K-12 interactive science education among United States and Mexico border schools.

Tobin has been internationally recognized for his work in urban education, including far-reaching ethnographic research, the study of how teachers interact with students in a class. He also developed an assessment tool, the Test of Logical Thinking, to help identify students who may benefit from less abstract forms of learning. Tobin's focus on improving the education of science teachers and providing them with increased practical applications of research for classroom use has garnered him several education research and teaching awards.

NSF has made DTS awards to 27 scholars since the program began four years ago.

This year's recipients will be honored in a ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences on June 2.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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