The 2016 William E. Bennett awardees are Drs. Garon Smith and Judith Iriarte-Gross. Click to read more about their achievements in the SENCER community.

Judith Iriarte-Gross and Garon Smith Honored with Bennett Awards

The William E. Bennett Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Citizen Science was established by NCSCE and named in honor of its first recipient for his lifetime contributions to citizen science. The first award was presented to its namesake at a ceremony on Capitol Hill on March 31, 2009. Since then, the William E. Bennett Award is awarded annually to individuals and/or teams whose SENCER and other related activities have made exemplary and extraordinary contributions to citizen science.

This year, we honored two longtime members of the SENCER community, Drs. Judith Iriarte-Gross of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), and Garon Smith, recently retired from the University of Montana. Both have made lasting impacts on their universities, communities, students, and colleagues with their dedication to improving STEM education and engaging students.

Awards were announced during the 2016 SENCER Summer Institute at Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL. Please continue reading to learn more about the inspiring recipients of this year’s awards.

Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross

Judith Iriarte-Gross is a professor of chemistry and director of the Women In STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (WISTEM) Center at MTSU. She earned her B.S. and M.S. in chemistry from the University of Maryland, College Park and her Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of South Carolina. She completed a post-doctoral research project that focused on inorganic polymers at Southern Methodist University. Before joining Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in 1996, she worked as a chemist for the FDA and as a chemist and lab manager in the plastics industry. (See full bio here.)

Judith has been a PI or Co-PI on six National Science Foundation (NSF) awards. In 2007, Dr. Iriarte-Gross was awarded an NSF grant titled A Dissemination Project To Increase Girls Raised in Tennessee Science (GRITS). This project provided information for Tennessee girls, parents, teachers and guidance counselors about STEM education and careers. This grant also supported the growth of Expanding Your Horizons Conference sites across Tennessee. As a result of her work with GRITS, the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) named Dr. Iriarte-Gross lead of the GRITS Collaborative Project for the state of Tennessee in 2008.

Judith is nationally known for her advocacy for encouraging girls and women in the sciences. She is involved in local and national programs which support the recruitment, retention and graduation of girls and women in STEM education and careers. For this work, she was a nominee for the 2014 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, just one among many recognitions she has earned for her dedication and exemplary work.

As a SENCER Leadership Fellow, Judith has developed course development efforts, provided consultation to faculty colleagues who want to develop innovative courses, worked to strengthen regional collaborations, and explored effective ways to encourage students to enroll in SENCER courses early in their college careers. She has also served as a mentor for colleagues as they develop their careers, work to improve student outcomes, and expand their scholarship.

Judith was also recently named the recipient of the 2017 American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. This award recognizes significant accomplishments by individuals who have stimulated or fostered the interest of women in chemistry, promoting their professional developments as chemists or chemical engineers.

Dr. Garon Smith

Garon Smith served as professor of chemistry at the University of Montana (UM) prior to his recent retirement. During his 24 years at UM, he instructed some 20,000 students in introductory chemistry, and has entertained and educated more than 100,000 young students through his work as “G.Wiz.” G. Wiz, Garon’s alter ego, uses chemistry as magic to captivate audiences of all ages and sizes. Since he took over UM’s chemistry course for applied science majors in 1994, the class enrollment expanded exponentially, from about 400 to 700 students each fall semester, and from 180 to nearly 300 students each spring. Garon vowed to teach as many classes as needed to accommodate every student who wanted to take his classes. Consequently, he estimated 20 to 25 percent of all UM students have taken his class. (Please read more here.)

In addition to his work at the University, over the years, Garon has traveled to schools around Montana and throughout the United States, reaching young students from rural, suburban, and urban areas with his demonstrations and providing them a path to engage with STEM from a young age. In 2014, Garon performed his wizardry for 10,200 students as a visiting professor at the University of Otago and the University of Waikato in New Zealand. He returns to New Zealand this fall to engage more students with the excitement of chemistry.

Garon has won multiple local and national awards for his teaching and outreach, including the 2014 Best UM Professor; 2008 Montana Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Most Inspirational UM Teacher in 2004; and a 2004 Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology Award at the International Conference on College Teaching and Learning.

As a Leadership Fellow, Garon has helped to connect SENCER to the National Conferences of Undergraduate Research (NCUR) program, whose national meeting he chaired in 2010. At the meeting, Garon introduced a program that offered students a chance to create a second version of their research posters that translated the implications of the research into non-scientific language.

Learn more about past recipients of the William E. Bennett award, as well as the requirements for nominations for the 2017 awards, here.

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