ASM Members Recognized for Scholarly Contributions to Undergraduate Education

The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named two ASM members, Robert Benoit of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, and Spencer Benson of the University of Maryland, College Park, as state winners for the 2002 U.S. Professor of the Year Awards. Benoit took home the Virginia State Award and Benson the Maryland State Award. Both were selected from more than 400 nominations. 

      "We are pleased to honor these distinguished professors who have demonstrated a passion for teaching, a dedication to student learning, and a commitment to an examination of their teaching practices," said the Carnegie Foundation President Lee S. Shulman. The U.S. Professors of the Year Awards, created in 1981, are the only national honors for excellence in teaching in higher education. Awardees represent professors from all disciplines and from all undergraduate institutions from community colleges through doctoral degree-granting universities. "These extraordinary teachers are shaping the lives of tomorrow's leaders and scholars everyday in their classrooms," continues Shulman. Areas considered in the nomination include impact on and involvement in students, scholarly approach to teaching and learning, contributions to undergraduate education, and support from colleagues and current and former students.

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said, "Benoit is a truly talented educator whose performance in the classroom reflects deep caring and respect for his students." One of Benoit's contributions to sciences has been his commitment to teaching ethics in science. Benoit describes the ethics course saying, "Given the multiple ethical problems facing our society, I think it is important that ethics should receive greater stress in the undergraduate science curriculum. The classroom is a place to face controversies, to debate issues, not to indoctrinate students to my beliefs. In ethics, everything is debatable. Tension stays high. We're talking about everything from birth to death to raising children." In addition to the ethics course that is available to honor students, Benoit teaches general microbiology to sophomores and aquatic microbiology to seniors and graduate students (8,100 and 1,240 students, respectively, in 40 years). Benoit has served ASM as a member of the Committee on Undergraduate Education, chair of Division W, member of the ASM Steering Committee for the telecourse Unseen Life on Earth: an Introduction to Microbiology, and feature editor for the newsletter Focus in Microbiology Education. 

Spencer Benson's commitment to "science for all" is demonstrated through a unique course for practicing science teachers in a new program, offered through a joint partnership with the National Science Teacher Association's (NSTA) Professional Development Institute and the University of Maryland. The NSTA is the leading science teacher organization representing more than 50,000 science teachers nationally. His course is one of several in the first online graduate programs of its kind, The Master of Life Sciences, a 30-credit interdisciplinary graduate program that gives teachers the opportunity to improve their science knowledge and immediately apply it to their classrooms.

The program is the Association's professional development initiative to support quality teaching. The institute links all of the Association's professional development activities and is providing a framework for diverse programs, including online courses and site-based topical conferences and workshops.

      "My interest in education and in working with teachers and students has always been nurtured and supported by my association with ASM. If I had not become active in the ASM Education Board, I would have never discovered the challenges and rewards in improving science education and learning for all. My award received reflects one of the many unexpected benefits that stems from ASM's commitment to undergraduate education," says Benson.

      Benson has contributed extensively to the microbiology profession. Between 1997 and 2002 he was appointed to the ASM Education Board, having served successfully as a member of the Committee on Undergraduate Education since 1995. In 2000, under his leadership, the Board launched the first peer-reviewed journal in undergraduate microbiology education research, Microbiology Education. This journal, now in its third year, was the first journal in undergraduate education and became the model for cell biologists, neuroscientists, and physiologists-all of whom have since published similar journals. Benson also served on the Planning Committee for the 1999 Gordon Research Conference (GRC), the first GRC to focus on undergraduate biology teaching. He is currently chair-elect for Division W.

      At the University of Maryland, Benson has been acclaimed for his work in undergraduate biology education for students majoring in both the sciences as well as general education and his role as a mentor for numerous undergraduate and graduate students who conduct research in bacterial evolution and Chinese herbal medicine. A highlight of his work in the scholarship of teaching has been his fellowship with the Carnegie Fellows program (2001-2002). The central work of the Carnegie Fellows program is to create and disseminate examples of the scholarship of teaching and learning that contribute to thought and practice in the field nationally.