Professor Gary Booth of Brigham Young University and The Core Interdisciplinary Team from the United States Military Academy Honored with the 2014 William E. Bennett Awards for Extraordinary Contributions to Citizen Science

Gary BoothGary Booth, professor of plant and wildlife science at Brigham Young University, and The Core Interdisciplinary Team from the United States Military Academy at West Point have been selected as this year’s recipients of the William E. Bennett Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Citizen Science.

The Bennett Awards are given by the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement each year, one to recognize the contributions of a single individual and another to honor team and institution-wide accomplishments. Named in honor of William E. Bennett, former senior science advisor to the US secretary of health and human services and longtime senior advisor to the SENCER project, for his lifetime contributions to citizen science, the award was first presented to its namesake at a ceremony on Capitol Hill on March 31, 2009.

Monica Devanas, director of faculty development and assessment programs at the Center for Teaching Advancement and Assessment Research at Rutgers University and a 2013 Bennett Award recipient, presented the awards during a dinner honoring leaders at the 2014 SENCER Summer Institute.

Professor Booth was honored for his remarkable 40 years of dedicated teaching and to recognize his distinguished record as a long-time, unflagging, unfailing, and imaginative contributor to the SENCER community. As Dr. Devanas noted, the Bennett Award will “hold up Dr. Booth’s contributions to students and education as an inspiration to others.”

The award to the United States Military Academy honors their creation and implementation of comprehensive interdisciplinary program focused on the complex, contested, and capacious issue of energy. Of the Core Interdisciplinary Team at West Point, Dr. Devanas noted: “The discipline, dedication and passion that the West Point faculty and student leaders have brought to their work on interdisciplinary education has captured the attention, adoration, and affection of the SENCER community. Our West Point colleagues have provided a thorough, thoughtful, and careful implementation of SENCER ideals with equally thoughtful and careful assessment of each element in all their work.”

The 2014 Bennett Awardees will also be recognized at the 2014 DC Symposium and Capitol Hill Poster Session.
Continue reading Dr. Monica Devanas’ remarks on this year’s awardees below.

The Core Interdisciplinary Team at the United States Military Academy at West Point

The first team from the United States Military Academy attended our SENCER Summer Institute in 2011, held in the sweltering heat at Butler University in Indianapolis. West Point faculty had just undertaken a self-study on general education and had asked for a “SENCER house call.” That campus visit was facilitated by Barbara Tewksbury of Hamilton College. The West Point team determined that a goal for general education reform should be the incorporation of interdisciplinary approaches in the general education curriculum, so they applied to attend SSI 2011.

Representing West Point at SSI 2011 were Jerry Kobylski, Frank Wattenberg, John Hartke, Adam Kalkstein, Bruce Keith, Scott Silverstone, and Diane Ryan. The team had a big challenge: to investigate and plan ways to implement their general education mission statement, “Graduates anticipate and respond effectively to the uncertainties of a changing technological, social, political, and economic world.” USMA graduates do indeed need to be interdisciplinary problem solvers.

The folks who came to SENCER in 2011 represented the West Point Core Interdisciplinary Team, all curriculum-focused volunteer faculty who look broadly at ways to introduce interdisciplinary topics, specifically “energy,” into general education courses. For more information on this project, read a [link http://serc.carleton.edu/sencer/newsletters/66783.html describing it in our eNews ‘past article’].

Many on the team became our good SENCER friends: Jerry Kobylski, Joe Shannon, Diane Ryan, Chuck Elliot, Chris Weld, and many others have participated in our national and regional meetings. Frank Wattenberg is serving as a Co-PI on our new NSF-supported Engaging Mathematics project and Chris Arney, who made the original connection to SENCER, is an advisor to NCSCE’s mathematics work. Team members have shared their scholarship on teaching and learning through publications, as well. “Putting the Backbone into Interdisciplinary Learning” was published in our Journal’s Winter 2013 edition. The latest edition of the Journal features an article on assessment by the newly graduated and commissioned officer Elizabeth Olcese, along with Gerald Kobylski, Charles Elliott, and Joseph Shannon.

The discipline, dedication, and passion that the West Point faculty and student leaders have brought to their work on interdisciplinary education has captured the attention, adoration, and affection of the SENCER community. Our West Point colleagues have provided a thorough, thoughtful, and careful implementation of SENCER ideals with equally thoughtful and careful assessment of each element in all their work. They have designed a comprehensive, inclusive process with successful incremental and institution-wide changes. And they are not finished! The team’s and West Point’s work represents one of the largest applications of the SENCER ideals since our program began.

Professor Gary M. Booth of Brigham Young University

Gary Booth has been teaching for over 40 years at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. A biology professor in plant and wildlife sciences, Gary describes teaching as a journey of discovery. He is so dedicated to this journey that he left his successful research-based career at the University of Illinois to join the faculty at Brigham Young, just so he could teach more.

Gary’s motto is “learning can be fun.” He firmly believes in using principles of active learning in his teaching. He has come to class with festoons of balloons, some filled with helium and some with oxygen to demonstrate chemical principles. He has filled his classroom with every tropical plant he could find along with a fog machine to recreate the tropical rain forest. He confesses to dressing as Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi to make a point memorable to students. He teaches students to love learning.

Gary cares deeply about learning about the learning that his students are doing. This commitment to what we now call assessment takes many forms, but one of special note to the SENCER community is Gary’s longtime use of the Student Assessment of Their Learning Gains (SALG) instrument. Gary’s use of the SALG was critical to early work used to assess the SALG’s validity.

In the NCSCE tribute, Gary is described as being “a distinguished, long-time, unflagging, unfailing, and imaginative contributor to the SENCER community. The Bennett Award will hold Dr. Booth’s contributions to students and education up as an inspiration to others.”

Gary certainly is an inspiration to me. I remember meeting Gary at the SSI in 2002 where he exhibited his trademark style and deeply held commitment to the engagement of students in all aspects of the learning process. He always brought teams of students to the SSIs and to the DC Symposia. He engaged students in his research with plants and fruits looking for anti-cancer agents. He is renowned for creating what he calls a “Cycle of Learning” in which upper-level students doing research with him come back and explain their research to his first-year students in introductory level courses, when the subjects of the student research serve to illuminate the lessons being taught in the beginning course.

Look on RateMyProfessor.com and the word you see most frequently is “love.” Students love his class, students love to learn, students love Dr. Booth. Ask his colleagues about his teaching and the words they use are “fervor, energy, and passion.”

Gary’s influence goes well beyond Provo. He has been a leader in the SCI-WestNet Pioneer Node where he helped create seven SENCER-based courses at Brigham Young Provo, Brigham Young Idaho, Regis University, and Utah Valley University.

One of his former students, now a professor and faculty member, says of him, “I always wanted to be some kind of teacher but Dr. Booth showed me the kind of teacher I want to be.” SENCER is both humbled and proud to honor Professor Gary M. Booth.

Posted in eNews and tagged .

Leave a Reply