The recipient of the 2013 ASM Graduate Teaching Award is Jo Handelsman, Ph.D., Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. This award is given to an individual for the distinguished teaching of microbiology and mentoring of students at the graduate and postgraduate levels, and for encouraging students to subsequent achievement. Handelsman’s nominator, Eric V. Stabb, describes her as spreading “excellence in graduate teaching through publications, course materials, and service to groups such as the HHMI and the ASM committee on graduate education.”
Currently, Handelsman is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University. She received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984 and served on the faculty there from 1985 until moving to Yale in 2010. Her research focuses on the genetic and functional diversity of microorganisms in soil and insect gut communities. She is one of the pioneers of functional metagenomics, an approach to accessing the genetic potential of unculturable bacteria in environmental samples for discovery of novel microbial products.
In addition to her research program, Handelsman is also known internationally for her efforts to improve science education and increase the participation of women and minorities in science at the university level. She co-founded the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at UW-Madison, which has designed and evaluated interventions intended to enhance the participation of women in science. Her leadership in education and women in science led to her appointment as the first President of the Rosalind Franklin Society and to serve on the National Academies' panel that wrote the 2006 report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering."
Handelsman's former graduate students now occupy positions in academic and private-sector research laboratories. Anne Dunn, University of Oklahoma, a former Ph.D. student in Handelsman’s lab, provides a firsthand account of the impact Handelsman has on her students. Dunn says, “During my time in her lab, there were approximately six to seven graduate students. Despite this number, she found time to interact with all students on a daily basis, advising us on writing, teaching, oral presentations, and research. In addition she impacted students beyond her lab, through teaching a graduate level course on effective teaching and by making herself available to graduate students in general for advice.”
Handelsman is co-author of three books about teaching: Entering Mentoring, Scientific Teaching, and Biology Brought to Life. Stabb says, “I have used the Entering Mentoring handbook that she helped develop in workshops, and not only do graduate students find it useful, but such workshops would probably not exist if not for Jo's efforts.” She also co-edits the series, Controversies in Science and Technology. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the AAAS; member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering; Director of the Center for Scientific Teaching at Yale; and co-Director of the National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology. She was elected to serve as president of ASM 2013-14; has received numerous awards in recognition of her mentoring, teaching, and research contributions; and in 2009, Seed magazine named her "A Revolutionary Mind" in recognition of her unorthodox ideas. In 2011, she was one of 11 individuals selected by President Barack Obama to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring and recently co-chaired a working group that produced the report to the President, “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” about improving STEM education in postsecondary education.
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