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2004 Regents Teaching Excellence Awards

Regents Davis, Pruitt, Richlen and Salas

Regent Davis:

I am very pleased to be a part of today's presentation of the Regents Teaching Excellence Awards for 2004, and would like to welcome this year's award recipients, their friends, families, and supporters.  These awards represent an opportunity for the Board to recognize and honor some of the UW System's most outstanding teachers, departments and programs.  I think all of us in this room understand what a valuable resource we have in our faculty and academic staff, who teach day in and day out with dedication, creativity and passion; and to whom we entrust the education and enlightenment of the citizens of the future.  But that acknowledgement does not always find voice outside the halls of academia.  As Regents, we can and must work to publicly honor and help make understood the intense labor and dedication that go into the act of teaching.  The awards we make today represent a small, but, I hope, significant, step in the right direction.

Without deflecting any attention away from the people we honor today, I also want to remind us of the larger context in which we conduct this ceremony.  We cannot afford to divorce the extraordinary teaching and learning we will hear about today from the budget request we are submitting to the Governor this fall.  We debated long and hard last month about what the nature of that request should be.  We expressed our commitment to a request for additional faculty resources.  Today's ceremony should allow us to feel renewed in our commitment and secure in the knowledge that we are moving in the right direction with such a request.

Regents Pruitt, Richlen and Salas joined me as part of this year's selection team, and I thank them for their thoughtful participation.  As always, the pool of nominees was truly exceptional.  Selecting the winners was extremely challenging, but also rewarding.  The members of the UW community we honor today are shining examples of the ability that excellent teachers have to change students' lives.  While they all go about this task in unique ways, they share several striking characteristics: a distinct philosophy of teaching and learning; a willingness to adapt and innovate in order to meet the needs of students; a passion for their discipline; and a commitment to constant self-examination and improvement.

This year's ceremony will be conducted as follows: each of the other Regent members on the selection committee will briefly introduce one of the winners and hand over to them their award and the podium for the opportunity to address the Board.  Following last year's practice, we have circulated profiles of each of our award winners: they have been placed in the Regent's folders, and have been distributed to Chancellors, Provosts and others whom we are pleased to welcome here today.  We encourage you to read them for the brief remarks we make today do not do justice to the wealth of talent, dedication, and passion of the teachers joining us at the podium today.

Regent Richlen will present the first award.

Regent Richlen:

I am pleased to introduce our first 2004 Regents Teaching Exellence Award winner: Dr. Eric Anderson, Professor of Wildlife in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. I will read the prepared remarks, but I do want to begin by saying that when the  Selection Committee got together to choose from among an extraordinary group of nominees for this award, I was concerned about the objectivity I would bring to discussing Professor Anderson.  This was because I know him from my time as a student at Point.  Having known him and been the beneficiary of his teaching, I knew that everything in his dossier was true and then some!  I declared at the outset to my fellow committee members that I had been Professor Anderson's student.  But I didn't have to worry about either unduly influencing my fellow Regents, or remaining silent in the effort to be impartial.  Impartiality, it turns out, is not a position anybody would claim in describing Professor Anderson.  The Selection Committee was unanimous in their support for Dr. Anderson.

In fact, it's difficult to know where to begin in describing his teaching and the profound impact he has on his students and colleagues at UW-Stevens Point.  To read his syllabus is to gain a sense of the conceptual framework with which he approaches the teaching of his discipline, as well as the rigorous critical thinking he demands from his students.  He imparts to his students not just disciplinary knowledge but also a philosophy of wildlife ecology, biological conservation, and the stewardship responsibilities of natural resources management.  He also, very simply, wants his students to learn and grow.  One of the objectives listed on his syllabus is—and this is not so simple—to "kindle the intrinsic desire to know and to understand."

The evidence that he is successful abounds, as his students attest.  One student wrote, "Dr. Anderson's teaching style can be summed up with one word, ‘enthusiastic.'  Teaching with such emotion, encouragement, and energy should flat out exhaust him, but it doesn't.  He repeats these ‘high energy' lectures day after day.  He has a way of captivating his audience, and students feed off of his excitement and his obvious love of teaching and wildlife."  And each of the colleagues who wrote in support of him begin their accolades with something to the effect of, "In all my 27 or 33 or whatever number of years teaching, I have never met a more inspiring teacher than Eric Anderson."

 He creates and facilitates a plethora of learning opportunities for students.  For example, he uses technology to create digital images which bring field examples into the classroom and laboratory; to integrate Geographic Information Systems into the wildlife curriculum; and to develop with students a series of interactive CD Roms using audio, video and quizzing components to help students identify plants, mammals and amphibians.  He takes students on an annual trip to the Badlands of South Dakota each fall to learn fieldwork (is there anyone you'd rather go to the Badlands with to learn about wildlife ecology?), and he has led students on study abroad tours to Costa Rica, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the latter trip a semester-long program that Dr. Anderson developed, organized, and led for 30 students by himself in 2003.

Six principles guide his teaching and extend beyond his discipline.  They are: Respect students as individuals; Focus on learning, not teaching; Be passionate about my subject and about teaching; Be humble in the presence of my academic discipline and students; Give students the responsibility, tools, and desire to learn; and Be genuine.  From all accounts and by every evaluative measure, he is successful at integrating each one of these principles into his teaching.

Professor Anderson ...

Regent Pruitt:

"The accolades of the academic world are too often reserved for those who have amassed the longest list of publications, a feature that sometimes overlooks those who are truly outstanding at doing what the job is really all about-teaching. "I like these words a lot, although they aren't mine.  They were written by one of Professor Denise Scheberle's students in support of her nomination for the Regents Teaching Excellence Awards.  Dr. Scheberle, Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, is the second recipient we honor today.   Reading through her dossier one gets a marvelous sense of her teaching personality: she is forceful in articulating what she wants her students to accomplish but gentle in leading them there.  She is humble, even self-effacing.  But she is also tireless in her quest to bring innovative teaching and creative opportunities for student learning into her classrooms.  "Teaching," she writes, "represents the essence of who I am professionally and personally."  The impact she has had on students, colleagues, her institution as a whole, and the practice of teaching itself is immense.

Indeed, Professor Scheberle has taken active learning taken to a whole new dimension.  The research tells us that students are most engaged in their educations when they are not passive receptacles of teaching content, but when they are co-producers of knowledge and meaning.  Professor Scheberle has developed a series of active learning exercises, closely allied to the objectives of each of her courses, which are truly exciting.  For example, she has developed eight on-line simulations.  These are interactive timeline, political participation and visual literacy learning packages available to students in her American Government classes, as well as to others through the website  With funding from the Wisconsin Campus Compact, she guided her students into developing UW-Green Bay's first annual democracy dialogues named the Phoenix Forums: Issues in Citizenship, the goal of which is to stimulate student thinking and dialogue about important political issues of the day and what civic life means.  In the end, it is her students who develop and thus take ownership of these activities.  Active learning in Professor Scheberle's class gets at the core of the learning objectives she sets for her students: civic engagement and an understanding of what it means to participate in a democracy.  It's difficult to imagine more important goals than these.

There is another side to Professor Scheberle's work that really sets her apart, and that is her work in faculty development.  She has an abiding commitment to making good teaching public and sharing with others the strategies, successes and challenges that she has had in the classroom.  She seems to believe that if you don't share it, it doesn't count!  This is true for her students, and it is true for her participation throughout the years in a variety of systemwide faculty development programs.  Her generosity and dedication have led her to organize an annual teaching and learning conference held each January and open to other teachers and administrators beyond UW-Green Bay.  With another faculty member at Green Bay, she created the UW-Green Bay Teaching Scholars Program, designed to help pre-tenure faculty teach better but also to become part of a community of teacher-scholars at the outset of their careers.  The Teaching Scholars Program was started with funding from the UW System's Office of Professional and Instructional Development, and modeled after one of their programs.  It was so successful that Green Bay committed internal resources to its continuation.  Through her belief in teaching as both an art and a science, which can and must be shared with students and colleagues alike, Professor Scheberle is transforming teaching and learning for her institution and the UW System.

Professor Scheberle ...

Regent Salas:

Finally, it is my distinct honor to bestow the 2004 Regents Teaching Excellence Award for a Department or Program to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse  Department of Physics, represented here today by three faculty members in the program:  Professor Gubbi Sudhakaran, the Department's Chair, and Professors Mike Jackson and Robert Ragan.

Twelve years ago, this award would have been unimaginable.  In the late 1980s, the UW-La Crosse Physics Department had a total of 5 majors, 5 faculty members, and a graduation rate of one major per year.  The Department had received poor reviews from the University's Academic Program Review Committee, and UW System Administration had recommended phasing out the Physics Department because of its low graduation rates.  Faced with the choice of either recommending the Department's demise or its revitalization, UW-La Crosse decided to give Physics a second chance.  The University decided to hire a new chair and an experienced faculty member in an attempt to turn the program around.

Obviously these faculty members would not be standing before us today if the attempt had not been successful.  And what a transformation this department has undergone!  Indeed, one of its former students called the department's second chance at life a "resurrection," one he attributes to the quality of the department and its members.  Led by a dynamic new chair, the Department embarked upon a complete overhaul of the curriculum, a reconfiguring of its faculty members as effective teachers, mentors, and scholars, and a re-commitment to providing an array of learning opportunities that were entirely student-centered.

The catalogue of changes instituted by the Department to complete its renewal is impressive.  Specifically, the Department implemented Dual Degree Programs with four Engineering programs at four different universities, providing students who complete the program with both a B.S. in Physics from UW-La Crosse and a B.S. in engineering from the partner institution; promoted and supported an abundance of research opportunities for undergraduates, with both internal and external funding; built a scholarly community through weekly seminars for faculty and students; revitalized the Department's contributions to UW-La Crosse's Teacher Education program in the sciences and ensuring the rigor of the teachers it produces; engaged in aggressive recruitment of new students and new majors and followed this up with strenuous advising and retention efforts; renewed their assessment of student learning based on student feedback; improved outreach activities to create for themselves a vital role in the community outside the university; developed a faculty mentoring program; and, finally, implemented a Distinguished Lecture Series in Physics.

This latter program provides an unbelievable example of what the Physics Department offers not only to its students but also to the entire La Crosse community.  The Department hosts an annual Distinguished Lecture Series in Physics that brings a Nobel Laureate to campus for 2 days each fall.  The Nobel Laureate visits with physics classes, meets local community and industry leaders at a major banquet, meets with faculty individually, gives a physics seminar, a public lecture, and engages in other less formal interactions with students.  That Nobel Laureates accept the invitation to visit UW-La Crosse is a testament to the Department's success, energy, and renown.

Students who major in Physics feel like they are part of a scientific community.  Letter after letter written by current and former students in support of the Department detailed the multiple learning and research opportunities afforded by this stellar faculty.  Whether a student chooses to go into science teaching at the high school level, or to pursue graduate studies in optics, he or she is extremely well-prepared.

To call this Department's transformation a success story, then, is an understatement!  Today, the UW-La Crosse Physics Department is the largest undergraduate Physics program in Wisconsin.  From 5 majors in 1990, to 115 in 2003-04; from 1 graduate per year, to 24 graduates in 2003.  This program is exemplary and it is nationally recognized as such.  The National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics selected the Department as one of the most successful undergraduate programs in the nation, and physics departments throughout the country are following the Department's lead and model in attempts to revitalize their programs.  Finally, the Department was featured on the cover of the September, 2003, issue of Physics Today, and in an article entitled "Why Many Undergraduate Physics Programs Are Good But Few Are Great."

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that this Department is truly great, and thus it is my distinct pleasure to present this award to the UW-La Crosse Department of Physics.  Professor Sudhakaran and colleagues ...

Return to Regents News Summary for September 10, 2004