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Hamilton College Geologist is New York Professor of Year

Award Winner Called a "Teacher of Teachers"

By staff  |  Contact staff
Posted October 23, 1997
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The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching today announced that Hamilton College Professor Barbara J. Tewksbury has been named the 1997 New York Professor of the Year.

Tewksbury is the Stephen Harper Kirner Professor of Geology at Hamilton College, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1978. She is a national leader in science pedagogy reform.

"This highly coveted award is a great honor for Professor Tewksbury and for Hamilton College," said President Eugene M. Tobin. "Barbara is a passionate, creative and truly innovative teacher, and her ideas about science pedagogy have earned her a national following. Her selection for this award is further testimony of Hamilton's emphasis on teaching excellence."

Tewksbury is immediate past president of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, an organization of 2,000 educators from all levels committed to the teaching of geoscience. During her tenure as head of the organization, she helped secure funding from the National Science Foundation to hold workshops on innovative and effective teaching methods.

She also has been part of the NAGT's Distinguished Speakers Series, which promotes curricular reform, and received three Dwight D. Eisenhower Title IIA awards from the New York State Education Department to co-sponsor week-long summer in-service training institutes for secondary school earth science teachers.

"Barbara's passion for reforming science education has earned her a well-deserved reputation, both locally and nationally, as a teacher of teachers," Tobin said. David Bailey, an associate professor in the geology department Tewksbury chairs at Hamilton, said "Barb is one of the brightest, most articulate, and most generous individuals I know. She is a colleague that I truly admire and respect. It is entirely due to her presence and influence that I have grown as a teacher and have become interested in educational pedagogy and involved in efforts to reform undergraduate science education. She has had a tremendous impact on my development and growth as an educator."

R. Heather Macdonald, associate professor of geology at The College of William & Mary, called Tewksbury "an extraordinary teacher, a creative and widely recognized leader in the field of geoscience education, and someone whose service contributions are amazing."

Hamilton students, past and present, have expressed similar praise. Bailey recalled the comments of a 1993 graduate who now works in the insurance industry. He credited Tewksbury's "Plate Tectonics" class as being the "single most important course he took at Hamilton because it gave him both the confidence and the skills he needed to evaluate complex issues and to present information in well-organized written and oral reports."

Another student, now a pursuing graduate study in geology, cited Tewksbury's ability to devise "unique ways to help students to understand complex ideas." He described, as one example, the use of different colors of PlayDoh in a Structural Geology course to stimulate rock layers, thereby enabling students to visualize how the rock units would appear when folded or faulted by geologic forces.

In her introductory course titled "Planet Earth," the same student described how "she encouraged group learning, but also designed the laboratory exercises to equip us with tools to interpret a complex geologic map of the Indonesian region. At the end of the term," he continued, "we were required to produce a report consisting of our geologic interpretations of areas of the map not studied previously. What seemed at first to be a daunting task turned out to be an unexpectedly surprising experience of realizing how much we had learned that semester and how much we could do on our own with the tools she had provided us."

Since 1990, Tewksbury has completely redesigned and restructured all of her courses at Hamilton. A new introductory course, "The Geology and Development of Modern Africa," has been called by Bailey "one of her most impressive accomplishments."

Supported by a three-year National Science Foundation grant, the course is, according to Bailey, multidisciplinary, taught largely through group learning strategies versus lectures, and successful in attracting students of color to enroll in geoscience courses.

In the course, students gain a rigorous understanding of geology and geological processes and have a chance to explore the underlying influences of geology on human events in Africa. For example, students make connections between the character of gold deposits and the origin of black oppression in South Africa. They also learn how long-term fluctuations in the Nile are linked to the rise and fall of dynasties along that region's important waterway. Instruction is active and hands-on, and lectures form a very small percentage of classroom time.

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