GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two faculty members with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences received Excellence in Teaching honors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The awards were announced at the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 12.
The USDA presents awards in both regional and national categories. UF faculty have received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution.
Christine Miller, a UF/IFAS associate professor in the entomology and nematology department, earned one of the two national awards in the New Teacher category. Susan Jacobson, a UF/IFAS professor in the wildlife ecology and conservation department, received one of five regional awards. Miller and Jacobson each received $2,000 dollars that will be used to strengthen the instructional programs of their choice within the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).
“Dr. Miller and Dr. Jacobson are dedicated UF/IFAS faculty members, and CALS is proud of the support and engaging experiential learning opportunities they provide to our students,” said UF/IFAS CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “They continue to do excellent work preparing students to address our world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. They represent the teaching excellence UF/IFAS educators are known for around our state and across the nation.”
Christine Miller, national USDA new teacher award
Miller employs active learning strategies in her classroom. Through her Classroom Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) courses, Miller simulates research lab meetings for novice undergraduate students. In these courses, Miller utilizes the experience of graduate students in a mentorship program for undergraduate students.
“My experiences in her lab, principally publishing a senior thesis and co-teaching a novel course designed by Dr. Miller, convinced me to pursue a career in science and science education,” said one of Miller’s former students, Katherine Holmes, who is now a Ph.D. student at Cornell University. “Dr. Miller remains an incredible role model for me as a scientist, educator and mentor.”
Miller aims to instill in her students the same passion she has for science. “I am passionate about science and the natural world, and I strive to spark and foster such enthusiasm in my students,” Miller said “Innovative teaching approaches have been a major source of fun and motivation for me, and one of my goals is to inspire others to try new, evidence-based teaching strategies.”
Susan Jacobson, regional USDA teaching award
Jacobson promotes critical thinking among her students and she encourages them to think and reason creatively and independently. Case studies, small-group brainstorming, role- playing and field trips are some of the teaching methods Jacobson uses in her classes. Recently, Jacobson assembled a team of faculty from three different colleges to participate in a creative problem solving project that fuses art with biology. This project illustrates her ability to bring together students from different disciplines to gain new perspectives about ecosystems.
“My passion for teaching is driven by my desire to help students envision and achieve their professional dreams, and to improve how we manage and conserve natural resources on this planet,” Jacobson said.
A hallmark of Jacobson’s work ethic is her extensive record of graduate student mentorship, for which she has been recognized many times by CALS and the university.
“One quality that sets Susan apart is that she is a life-long mentor and colleague,” said Jacobson’s first Ph.D. student, Mallory McDuff, who is now a faculty member at Warren Wilson College. “I endorse her for this award because of the concrete direction she provided in three distinct areas: publishing, professional development and life-long learning through teaching.”
Miller and Jacobson join 14 UF/IFAS faculty members who have received these prestigious awards since the program began in 1992.
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