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Macdonald to give Robert Foster Cherry Lecture Nov. 14

  • Award finalistHeather Macdonald is a nationally-known figure in geoscience education circles. She is a finalist for Baylor University's Robert Foster Cherry Award , which recognizes excellence in teaching.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Award finalist

Heather Macdonald, Chancellor Professor of Geology and one of three finalists for the Robert Foster Cherry Award given by Baylor University, will give the Robert Foster Cherry Lecture at the College of William and Mary on Monday, Nov. 14, 2011 at 7 p.m.

The title of her presentation is “Behind the Scenes: From Strong Geoscience Courses to an Energized Community.” The lecture will be in the Brinkley Commons Room in Miller Hall of the Mason School of Business. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. 

Macdonald says her talk will be a look “behind the scenes” of effective geoscience education. She gave a version of her presentation at Baylor in October.

“I want to give the audience a sense of the process of designing and teaching a really effective course and my experiences working with faculty across the county to improve their teaching,” Macdonald said. “The ultimate goal of all of this, of course, is improving student learning.”

Macdonald’s co-finalists for the Cherry Award are Brian P. Coppola, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry, at the University of Michigan; and Allen J. Matusow, W.G. Twyman Professor of History, at Rice University.

Each award finalist received $15,000. In addition, the home department of all finalists will receive $10,000 to foster the development of teaching skills. The winner of the Cherry Award will receive a prize of $250,000 and will teach in residence at Baylor during the 2012 fall or 2013 spring semester. The home department of the winner will receive an additional $25,000.

Macdonald is a national leader in advancing education in the geosciences. In 2002, On the Cutting Edge, a professional development program for geoscience faculty, was launched by a collaboration of Macdonald, Cathy Manduca of Carleton College, Barbara Tewksbury of Hamilton College, and David Mogk of Montana State University. One of the hallmarks of the program is an integrated and synergistic workshop series and website.

Both the workshops and the website have attracted notice. In 2010, Macdonald and the rest of the team behind On the Cutting Edge were awarded the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The site also won the 2009 Best Website Award from the Geoscience Information Society.

The workshops have attracted more than eight million dollars in financial support from the National Science Foundation. The NSF funding is supporting a 2012 workshop at William & Mary that Macdonald is convening for early-career geoscience faculty from across the country.

In August, Macdonald received additional NSF support to work with geoscience faculty at two-year colleges.

Macdonald remains an active educator of educators on campus, as well. She taught a course on college-level teaching with Sharon Zuber of William & Mary’s English department. This semester, she is teaching a course on college science teaching at the College’s School of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). Macdonald also is the co-director, with Elizabeth Canuel from VIMS, of the College’s new minor in marine science.

A Fellow of the Geological Society of America, Macdonald has been honored numerous times for teaching, including the 2009 Neil Miner Award presented by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers each year to one individual for exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the earth sciences; the 2003 State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award; 1992 BEST (Biggs Earth Science Teaching) Award, given by the Geological Society of America annually to one faculty member in his/her first 10 years of teaching; the 1990 Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award from William and Mary; 1989 William and Mary Alumni Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching; and the 1979 Stanley A. Tyler Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wisconsin. She has also received an alumni achievement award from Carleton College (1996) and a distinguished alumni award from the Department of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin (2011).

The award was created by Robert Foster Cherry, who earned his A.B. from Baylor in 1929. He enrolled in the Baylor Law School in 1932 and passed the Texas State Bar Examination the following year. With a deep appreciation for how his life had been changed by significant teachers, he made an exceptional estate bequest to establish the Cherry Award program to recognize excellent teachers and bring them in contact with Baylor students. The first Robert Foster Cherry Award was made in 1991 and has since been awarded biennially.