Professors of the Year

In podcast interviews, winners of annual national contest describe their pedagogical approaches.

November 15, 2007
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced today winners of their annual U.S. Professors of the Year award, given to instructors who show dedication to undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

Judges assess candidates in four higher education categories -- baccalaureate colleges, community colleges, doctoral and research universities, and master’s universities and colleges -- on the following criteria:

  • Impact on and involvement with undergraduate students
  • Scholarly approach to teaching and learning
  • Contribution to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession
  • Support from colleagues and current and former undergraduate students

This year's winners are: Glenn W. Ellis, an associate professor of engineering at Smith College; Rosemary M. Karr, professor of mathematics at Collin County Community College, in Texas; Chris M. Sorensen, university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University; and Carlos G. Spaht, a professor of mathematics at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.

Each winner spoke earlier this week to Inside Higher Ed for a podcast linked to here.

Ellis, who started at Smith in 2001, created the first engineering program specifically for women. "My goal is to replace engineering training with a more holistic experience that inspires meaningful learning, reflection, personal growth and enlightenment," he writes. A recipient of several distinguished teaching awards, Smith received a bachelor's of arts in civil engineering from Lehigh University, and his master's and Ph.D. at Princeton University.

After a tenure at Eastern Kentucky University, Karr came to Collin County Community College in 1990 to teach developmental math, with a goal of "minimizing students' unfounded fears of mathematics." She has integrated what she calls a holistic approach that takes into account gaming techniques and gives students the option of tutoring disadvantaged students. A recipient of numerous developmental education awards, Karr received both her bachelor's and master's degrees in math from Eastern Kentucky, and her Ph.D. in higher education from the University of North Texas.

Sorensen has devoted his career to spicing up physics instruction. He has modified a two-semester engineering physics course to include 130 hands-on lab demonstrations, and asks students to read original work of Galileo, Newton and the like. Sorensen, a distinguished professor at Kansas State since 2000, is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and did his master's work at the University of Colorado.

Spaht, a teacher for 35 years, says he tries to "speak expressively, smile and laugh, tell jokes and share anecdotes" in the classroom. He has created several programs that aim to help junior high and high school students become proficient in math, and one that teaches students and their teachers money management and financial planning. A prior winner of LSU-Shreveport's teacher of the year, Spaht received all his math degrees at LSU.

For the competition, CASE brings together panels that determine six finalists in each of the four categories. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching assembles the final two panels. This year's winners, selected from a pool of more than 300 nominees, receive a $5,000 cash award from Carnegie. A state professor of the year is also recognized in 40 states and the District of Columbia.


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