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For Immediate Release
Nov. 17, 2011

Eclectic, Visionary Educators Named 2011 U.S. Professors of the Year

Winners saluted for extraordinary performance in undergraduate education


WASHNGTON, D.C.—A history professor who makes clever use of classroom technology, a nuclear engineer turned math professor who explains concepts using real-world applications, a biology professor who regularly researches alongside her students, and a psychology professor who corrects bad study habits are the national winners of the 2011 U.S. Professors of the Year awards.

Sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and administered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the awards recognize professors for their influence on teaching and commitment to undergraduate students. In addition to the four national winners, there are 27 state Professors of the Year award winners.

National and state winners of the 2011 U.S. Professors of the Year awards will be honored today at a luncheon and awards ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Introduced by former students, national winners will make remarks at the event.

The four national winners are:

  • Steven S. Volk, Outstanding Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year: Volk is professor of history at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Judges of the 2011 awards recognized Volk as an "extraordinarily dedicated undergraduate teacher, who is skilled in engaging students with history-even the ‘back-row boys." Volk uses technology, such as self-paced video lectures for the web, to free up classroom time for discussion. His passion for Latin American political history, the transition to democracy, immigration reform and other topics helps students understand the relevance of history in today's world. He also helps mentor other instructors via the Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence, which he established.
  • Kathryn C. Wetzel, Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year: Wetzel is professor of mathematics and engineering, and department chair of mathematics, sciences and engineering, at Amarillo College in Amarillo, Texas. Judges said they were "impressed" by Wetzel's approach to teaching math and engineering to students using real-world applications. They also cited her efforts at program building, including reestablishing her college's engineering program and creating an award-winning math outreach center, which each year provides more than 22,000 hour-long tutoring sessions for students.
  • Ursula Shepherd, Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year: Shepherd is associate professor of university honors and biology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, N.M. The judges highlighted Shepherd's focus on providing research opportunities for undergraduates as one of her strategies to teach the art of critical thinking. They noted her creativity in finding ways to make her classes interactive, including having students design their own experiments, teach key concepts to their peers and create portfolios of their work. Shepherd also designed a new science curriculum for honors students and an international summer program on biodiversity.
  • Stephen Chew, Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year: Chew is professor and chair of psychology at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. The judges admired Chew's accomplishments in the scholarship of teaching and learning as well as his efforts to bring lessons from his work to students and colleagues. He is keen on correcting counterproductive misconceptions that both students and teachers bring to the classroom to improve the learning process. Chew was also an early advocate of undergraduate research at Samford, helping reshape his department's curriculum so students can gain practical experience in the field and develop a professional identity.

The U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program, created in 1981, is the only national initiative specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

John Lippincott, president of CASE, said this year's national and state winners come from a broad range of academic disciplines and institutional types.

"They represent the great diversity and, therefore, one of the great strengths of American higher education," Lippincott said. "Their differences notwithstanding, they all share a passionate dedication to undergraduate teaching, an innovative approach to engaging students in the learning process and a lifelong commitment to academic exploration. We applaud their belief in the pedagogy of mutual discovery and in the principle that knowledge liberates, empowers and humanizes us all."

Anthony S. Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said these dedicated instructors not only inspire their students but also their colleagues.

"This year's national and state winners are the leaders and champions who are able to contribute their knowledge and wisdom to inspire other faculty members to work even harder to ensure sustained educational improvements," Bryk said. "Through their informed and committed leadership, we can build stronger institutions where faculty and students achieve the kind of success that will honor our national commitment to a quality education for all our citizens."

This year's U.S. Professors of the Year award winners were selected from a pool of nearly 300 nominees. Judges selected national and state winners based on four criteria: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former students.

TIAA-CREF, a financial services and retirement organization, is the principal sponsor of the awards ceremony. Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest academic honor society, sponsors an evening congressional reception for the winners at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Other sponsors of the awards program are the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of Community College Trustees, the Council of Independent Colleges, Datatel Inc. and the National Council of University Research Administrators.

About Carnegie

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is committed to developing networks of ideas, individuals, and institutions to advance teaching and learning. We join together scholars, practitioners, and designers in new ways to solve problems of educational practice. Toward this end, we work to integrate the discipline of improvement science into education with the goal of building the field's capacity to improve.

About CASE

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association serving educational institutions and the advancement professionals who work on their behalf in alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas.

CASE was founded in 1974 and maintains headquarters in Washington, D.C., with offices in London (CASE Europe, 1994), Singapore (CASE Asia-Pacific, 2007) and Mexico City (CASE América Latina, 2011).

Today, CASE’s membership includes more than 3,600 colleges and universities, primary and secondary independent and international schools, and nonprofit organizations in nearly 80 countries around the globe. This makes CASE one of the world’s largest nonprofit educational associations in terms of institutional membership. CASE serves nearly 78,000 advancement professionals on the staffs of its member institutions and has more than 16,000 professional members on its roster.

To fulfill their missions and to meet both individual and societal needs, colleges, universities and independent schools rely on—and therefore must foster—the good will, active involvement, informed advocacy and enduring support of alumni, donors, prospective students, parents, government officials, community leaders, corporate executives, foundation officers and other external constituencies.

CASE helps its members build stronger relationships with all of these constituencies by providing relevant research, supporting growth in the profession and fostering support of education. CASE also offers a variety of advancement products and services, provides standards and an ethical framework for the profession and works with other organizations to respond to public issues of concern while promoting the importance of education worldwide.

About TIAA-CREF
The TIAA-CREF family of companies is a prominent financial services organization dedicated to providing lifetime financial security to those in the healthcare, academic, cultural and research fields; for people whose work serves others. An organization with $495 billion in assets under management as of Sept. 30, 2012, TIAA-CREF has more than 3.7 million participants in more than 27,000 plans and 15,000 public and private institutions.

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