Chemist named U.S. Professor of the Year

Author: Gail Hinchion Mancini

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| *Dennis Jacobs meets with students from “Chemistry in Service to the Community” before taking lead samples from a South Bend home./ Heather Gollatz * ||
p. p. Dennis Jacobs, professor of chemistry at the University of Notre Dame, has been named the U.S. Professor of the Year for research and doctoral universities by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.p. The Professor of the Year Award honors dedication to teaching, commitment to students, and creative approaches to education. It is the only national award to acknowledge teaching excellence. Jacobs was honored at a luncheon today (Thursday, Nov. 21) at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. He will be honored on campus with a celebration at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 3 (Tuesday) in the Eck Visitors Center.p. “This is a remarkable honor for Dennis, and a wonderful occasion for Notre Dame to celebrate its common dedication to teaching excellence and the innovative spirit that allows students to reach their highest potential,” said Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president.p. Jacobs joined the faculty in 1988 after earning his doctorate from Stanford University. He has won several teaching awards and a Presidential Award for dedicated service to the University. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him a Carnegie Scholar in 1999, largely for completely redesigning an important introductory chemistry class. The redesign led to greater student success and engagement, and the course is considered a leading example of the trend toward peer-led curricula. Jacobs said the redesign also changed his view of teaching.p. “I used to approach teaching from the point of view of content: the material I felt I needed the students to learn,” said Jacobs, a Los Angeles native. "Since my involvement in the scholarship of teaching and learning, I find I approach my job from the question “How can I help these students learn?”p. Two years ago, concern about the effectiveness of chemistry textbooks led Jacobs and Bradley D. Smith, a Notre Dame professor of chemistry, to establish a national Web-based survey tool and database for assessing how students use and value their textbooks. Text Rev is believed to be the first national tool to gather feedback from students on textbook use and efficiency.p. This semester, Jacobs is collaborating with the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame, Memorial Hospital, Greentree Environmental and the city of South Bend on a course in which chemistry students test local homes for harmful levels of lead contamination. Student Erin Carmichael, a senior chemistry major, helped organize the class, which is called “Chemistry in Service of the Community.”p. In this endeavor, Jacobs is exploring whether a student’s experience of applying expertise in a service project leads to two results: a greater commitment to professional development and a greater commitment to social justice. In recommending Jacobs for the Professor of the Year Award, Carmichael noted the persistence he showed on the campus and among community groups in launching the project.p. p. | ||
| *Dennis Jacobs and senior Todd Engstrom work in Jacobs’ chemistry lab./ Linda Dunn * ||
“There were many proposals, meetings, and legal issues, but he persisted because he knew what a great experience it would offer both the students and the community,” she said.p. CASE and the Carnegie Foundation select Professors of the Year through a complex recommendation process that includes input from colleagues and students, and a personal statement about teaching. Todd Engstrom, a senior chemistry major who is engaged in an undergraduate research project with Jacobs, also recommended his professor for the award. Engstrom is considering graduate studies in chemical research, and has found in Jacobs a role model who has impacted the way he would like to teach. “The way he works so closely with students, thinking of creative ways to explain these abstract ideas – that’s something I could see myself doing,” he said.p. The Professor of the Year program is in its 22nd year. Winners are named in four categories: community colleges, baccalaureate colleges, master’s universities and colleges, and research and doctoral universities. Each of the four winners receives a $5,000 cash award.p. p. p. p.

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