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Chemistry, nursing receive $25,000 each for teaching initiatives

February 8th, 2007

What’s the connection between the School of Nursing and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Louisville?

The answer isn’t as obvious as it seems, and has nothing to do with subject matter.

The chemistry department and the School of Nursing share honors as the first recipients of the Paul Weber Awards for Departmental Excellence in Teaching. Each will receive $25,000 from the Office of the University Provost for efforts to improve student engagement.

UofL long has rewarded individual teaching, but the Weber awards encourage teamwork.

The awards came from a working committee of faculty, students and others charged to develop ideas to improve the student experience at UofL.

The committee felt that “to really emphasize the importance of teaching, the focus needs to be on a departmental level,” said University Provost Shirley Willihnganz.

It developed a way to reward departments or small schools for past work or to incite them to work together on a project that could make a significant difference, she said.

The chemistry department receives the Achievement in Teaching Award for its recently completed, six-year initiative to revamp its entire curriculum, update laboratories, improve student-faculty relationships and better engage students in learning. Faculty asked students what they needed and researched benchmarks for the labor-intensive project that cut across all segments of the department.

With changes now in place, the department, in its Weber award proposal, noted that the improvements seem to be working. More students are staying in chemistry, and more are graduating.

“Implementing our new integrated curriculum involved a great deal of faculty collaboration — from grant writing to lab development to team teaching,” said Christine Rich, a chemistry faculty member and an author of that department’s proposal. “When faculty are committed to working together, they can accomplish even what seemed overwhelming at its inception.”

The School of Nursing receives the Teaching Development Award for its proposal to develop decision case studies. Nursing students spend 252 hours in a clinical practicum in their senior year. The school wants to take examples from the cases they encounter and develop open-ended case studies to integrate into all levels of the curriculum. Students will gather case information from sources such as social workers, hospice volunteers, physicians and other medical staff. Faculty and a case-study expert will write the studies.

The studies will teach students decision-making and critical thinking skills and help bridge the gap between academic and clinical instruction, said Cathy Bays, who co-wrote the award-winning proposal.

The awards’ name honors the late Paul Weber, a political science professor at UofL for nearly 30 years who was known for his ability to make learning exciting and care about students as people.

“He was engaged with them,” said Maddie Reno, Weber’s wife, and a member of the awards selection committee. “They were not just little cognitive machines sitting in his classroom taking in and spitting out information.”

Reno said she hopes other departments are encouraged by the first recipients and try to win the awards themselves. In so trying, she said, the overall level of teaching at the university will continue to improve.

The university will recognize the award recipients with a ceremony March 1.

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