Science faculty receive top university honors

The College of Science is delighted to announce that three faculty are receiving the University’s most prestigious annual awards for exceptional teaching and advising. The awards will be formally announced at the 2017 University Day on September 18, 2017.

Congratulations to the three winners for their passionate dedication, hard work and distinguished achievement!

Kevin Ahern, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, will receive the Elizabeth P. Ritchie Distinguished Professor Award, OSU’s highest teaching award. The award encourages and recognizes outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.

This past spring Ahern received the Best Mentor/Advisor award by the Oregon State University Phi Beta Kappa Society. The award recognizes an advisor “devoted to assisting students in finding an educational path most suited to their unique talents and interests.”

Throughout the years, Ahern, who teaches many survey courses in the life sciences, has been on the forefront of making the study of life sciences more accessible to students at Oregon State, by expanding the use of technology in the classroom and offering many survey courses on OSU’s Ecampus. He was instrumental in transforming rote “cookbook” undergraduate labs into cutting-edge, real-world research labs accomplished through close collaboration with researchers in the department.

Ahern and his wife, senior biochemistry and biophysics instructor Indira Rajagopal, have published three free electronic textbooks for online learners worldwide. Ahern is an ardent advocate of using technology and digital media to enhance deep scientific learning and engagement in the undergraduate classroom, and his downloadable digital textbooks and medical school guide are significant steps towards expanding access and cutting costs for students.

Ahern won a $1.5 million five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to create and fund an OSU STEM Leaders Program targeting underrepresented minority students. The program recruits minority students and ensures their success during the critical freshman year with skill-support, a research internship with an OSU professor, a peer mentor, an annual retreat, and workshops that focus on scientific ethics, professional identity, and how to craft a great elevator pitch.  In its third year, the program exceeded its goal of increasing the retention rate of these students by 10 percent.

Ahern also served as long-time director of undergraduate research at Oregon State.

Physics professor Henri Jansen will receive the Dar Reese Excellence in Advising Award for outstanding undergraduate advising. The award is named for H. Darwin (Dar) Reese, a long-time Department of Chemistry faculty member.

In 2015, Jansen received the 2015 Olaf Boedtker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising in the College of Science, which honors advisors with exceptional and inspirational advising of undergraduate students.

Jansen has worked to expand the use of studio discussions so physics students work together on conceptual problems in the engineering physics courses. Such teaching methods have increased student confidence and reduced the dropout rate.

Lead advisor for the physics department, Jansen is a dedicated teacher who has been deeply involved in transforming the larger, lower division classes with evidence-based innovations like the flipped classroom and active engagement. He has also served as the chair of the physics department from 1998 to 2015. Jansen joined the physics faculty at OSU in 1985.

He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

The OSU Faculty Teaching Excellence Award honors unusually significant and meritorious achievement in teaching and scholarship which enhances effective instruction. This year Kenneth “KC” Walsh, a senior instructor in physics, received the honor.

Walsh is a dynamic, dedicated teacher who consistently gets rave reviews from students. He is an ESTEME@OSU Action Research Fellow who has studied online learning in physics and successfully “flipped” his own classes – PROJECT BOXSAND (flipping the words around) – from a traditional lecture model to a more hands-on workshop-style class. In the non-calculus physics sequence, he introduced flipped classrooms that have a significant online component. Specifically, he is focused on what content his 500+ students access, what order they access it, and how such interaction correlates with performance.

“KC is awesome,” said one student in a fairly typical review. “Taking a class with him not only changed the way I see physics but also the way I view education as a whole. He is involved in transforming the classroom towards a more progressive, efficient learning style.”

Through Project Boxsand, Walsh seeks to perform Educational Data Mining, a new field of research that analyzes the increasingly large-scale data from educational settings to suggest improvements, on physics students’ engagement with digital resources. His website, boxsand.physics.oregonstate.edu, houses the best open source resources on the web and features an extensive amount of custom, OSU-created content. He is hopeful that the BoxSand data will help the department adopt and add to the body of evidence-based instructional practices at OSU and the larger teaching community.

Walsh has been recognized as a leading innovator by Pearson.

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