The College celebrates excellence with Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Awards

Award recipients will be honored at convocation ceremonies for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be held at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 7 at Wells Fargo Arena.

Award recipients will be honored at convocation ceremonies for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be held at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.


As part of the largest academic body at Arizona State University, faculty in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences interact with students across the university.

The College’s annual Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize those far-reaching impacts by honoring outstanding faculty achievements in teaching, lecturing and advising.

The award series was created in memory of Zebulon Pearce, who graduated from the Territorial Normal School at Tempe, now ASU, with teacher’s credentials in 1899.

“As we continue to evolve, we consistently strive to foster teaching excellence in our academic units,” said Patrick Kenney, dean of The College. “The Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize the esteemed faculty exemplifying that aspiration.”

Faculty from each of The College’s divisions were chosen for the teaching awards. In addition, The College recognized two faculty members for exceptional lecturer and change-maker.

Meet this year’s outstanding teaching honorees.

Randall Cerveny

Cerveny, a professor in The College’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, is the 2019 recipient of the Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award in the social sciences.

His ASU career spans more than three decades and includes numerous teaching accolades for contributions made to undergraduate education, including the prestigious President’s Professor designation in 2005. He is also an affiliate faculty member at ASU’s Urban Climate Research Center and the director of the meteorology program at The College.

Cerveny said the award is a testament to The College’s long-standing commitment to spotlight teaching achievements.

“I am quite honored to receive this award, but frankly, the credit actually belongs to my unit, which has always had an incredibly strong commitment to teaching and the community at large,” Cerveny said. “I am fortunate to have had, and continue to have, some of the best students from around the world select meteorology as their major, so if I have contributed in even a small part to their great and varied successes, I am very proud and humbled.”

J Calvin Schermerhorn

Schermerhorn, who came to ASU in 2008, is a professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and also serves as the school’s assistant director of undergraduate studies. He is the 2019 recipient of the Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award in the humanities.

His research and courses focus on the history of slavery, capitalism and African American inequality. As an academic adviser, he works with graduate students and students from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

Schermerhorn said the Zebulon Pearce recognition was an honor shared by engaged students whose questions facilitate vibrant class discussions. He also said fellow professors had been vital mentors, including T. J. Davis and Donald Fixico, both professors in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, and the late Rachel Fuchs, who taught French women’s history for many years at ASU.

“One of the keys to teaching that my mentors gave was to treat each student who enters the classroom as a peer and person whose future matters vitally,” he said. “ASU’s charter broadens that commitment, since we measure ourselves by whom we include and how well they succeed.”

Anne Jones

Jones is an associate professor and the associate director of academic affairs in the School of Molecular Sciences. She is the recipient of the 2019 Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award in the natural sciences.

Students and fellow professors describe Jones’ hands-on style as one that embraces active learning and updated curriculums relevant to today’s science, technology, engineering and math students. 

She has been at the helm of several innovations within that realm since joining ASU in 2007. During the development of ASU’s Global Freshman Academy, she built a massive online course (MOOC) in general chemistry for engineers that focused on contextualization and active learning principles. She also played a key role in forging the first online biochemistry degree in the country. Since its launch two years ago, it has drawn over 650 majors and offered a pathway to those who are passionate about medical and science research fields but unable to pursue the path in a traditional classroom setting. Her latest venture seeks to redesign general chemistry courses to serve a wider range of students at ASU.

Jones said the award offered validation that her efforts had made a mark on her students and academic peers at ASU.

“I am particularly excited to receive this award in a year in which another recipient, Ron Briggs, is also in the School of Molecular Sciences,” she said. “I hope our shared successes draw people's attention to the wonderful teaching innovations happening broadly in chemistry and biochemistry at ASU.”


Ron Briggs

Briggs is a principal lecturer in the School of Molecular Sciences and recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Lecturer Award.

He began teaching large-enrollment general chemistry lectures and physical chemistry lab courses upon joining ASU in 2004. He now manages general chemistry and teaching assistantship programs. Within that role, he has overseen the creation of new active-learning formats, innovative classroom designs and shifts in instructional staffing, all of which he said have increased student success and retention.

This is the second year Briggs has garnered the esteemed lecturer award, an accolade he said was especially humbling because nominations are made by students themselves. He also praised The College’s innovative approach to creating learning spaces that transcend traditional classroom models.

“Early in my career, the ideas of incorporating active-learning and inquiry-based activities into the general chemistry curriculum were not only unpopular, they were criticized as being a waste of time and not worth investing in,” he said. “ASU responded by providing our team with support and encouragement to build a new collaborative learning center and fundamentally change the way we teach our 100-level courses.”

Olga Davis

Davis is a concurrent professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center whose work focuses on enhanced communication as a means of improving the health and well-being of underserved populations. She is the 2019 recipient of the Gary S. KrahenbuhlThe award was established in honor of Krahenbuhl, a former dean of The College known for spurring positive change at ASU, and recognizes a faculty member whose work demonstrates the same spirit. Difference Maker Award.

Inside and outside the classroom, Davis’ work exemplifies the merging of academia and public service that is encouraged by the ASU charter.

As a community health leader, she helped forge a health coalition for refugee women in Maricopa County and was appointed by former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to serve on the State Commission on Women’s and Children’s Health.

She has also partnered with the Phoenix-based Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer to produce a narrative play titled, "The Journey: Living Cancer Out Loud," which depicts the complexities of cancer and is based on interviews with African American survivors and caregivers of the disease.

“This award means so much to me,” Davis said. “It affirms my community-based participatory research efforts in making a difference in the health lives of African American men and women, and illuminates The College's recognition of and commitment to the importance of community research collaborations.”

Award recipients will be honored at convocation ceremonies for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be held at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

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