ASU English professor receives prestigious award for service to profession

January 16, 2015

Recognizing him as “an innovative scholar, teacher, public intellectual and institutional administrator whose work has the rare power to reach far beyond his own university,” the Association of Departments of English, an affiliate of the Modern Language Association of America, has given ASU professor Neal A. Lester its most prestigious award.

Lester was presented with the 2015 Francis Andrew March Award by the Association of Departments of English (ADE) in Vancouver, Canada, on Jan. 10. Lester is the Foundation Professor of English and founding director of ASU’s award-winning Project Humanities. Neal A. Lester Download Full Image

The award is named for Francis March (1825-1911), professor of English at Lafayette College and the first professor of English in America. Established in 1984, the award honors those who have committed exceptional service to the profession of English.

“The executive committee of the Association of Departments of English selected Neal Lester for the Francis March Award because of his outstanding service to the profession,” said Kent Cartwright, ADE executive committee member.

“I first became acquainted with Neal when he led a memorable session on building alumni relations at an ADE summer seminar," Cartwright said. "It was immediately clear to me that Neal was way ahead of the rest of us in appreciating the importance of external audiences and devising strategies for reaching them. He generously shared all his experiences and ideas. Such engagement, generosity and sense of public mission has been the hallmark of Neal’s leadership.”

The award is given occasionally, as appropriate nominees come to the committee’s attention. Prior recipients include Wayne C. Booth, University of Chicago, 1991; Patricia Meyer Spacks, University of Virginia, 1996; J. Hillis Miller, University of California, Irvine, 2001; Andrea Lunsford, Stanford University, 2002; and Gerald Graff, University of Illinois, 2011.

Lester said the award holds a special significance for him.

“This pursuit of ‘meaningfulness, integrity and truth’ is at the heart of the work I have tried to do these many years – in my teaching, in my research and in my service,” Lester said. “Whether it was sitting on advisory boards; evaluating proposals and manuscripts; conducting program reviews; evaluating annual performance reviews as a department chair; evaluating tenure and promotion cases as a dean or as an external reviewer; co-facilitating ADE new chairs workshops; presenting or paneling at ADE summer institutes; or counseling, calming or reassuring anxious graduate students about the job market at these annual conventions, for me, this service work is meaningful and reminds me of the passion that brought me to and sustains me in this profession.”

His passion has also impacted and sustained his peers, according to Karin Westman, an English professor from Kansas State University and ADE member.

“As a co-leader with Neal for the ADE's New Chairs Workshop for the past three years, I have watched Neal in action, helping faculty tap into skills they didn't realize they had for their new administrative roles,” Westman said. “I have also benefited indirectly from his insights, strategies and acumen about the best ways to help others succeed. He is richly deserving of the March Award."

Lester and Project Humanities have received major accolades since the project was founded in 2010, demonstrating the rapidly growing success and impact of this university initiative.

In 2014, Lester received the Roy Wilkins Community Service Award from the East Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the inaugural Key of Excellence Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Juliana Yoder Friend of the Humanities Award from Arizona Humanities and a written commendation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Humanity 101 effort.

Reporter , ASU News


Network of educators aim to transform science education

January 16, 2015

More than 200 faculty members and college presidents discussed the future of science education and demonstrated groundbreaking technology that will power the Inspark Science Network, Jan. 16, on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

Established to lead a digital revolution in science education, the Inspark Science Network was launched by ASU and Smart Sparrow to develop and share courses that will help students complete general science education courses. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a $4.5 million grant to Smart Sparrow for the new initiative. Success in general science education courses has been a barrier to college completion, particularly for low-income and first-generation students. group of people people watching a technology demo on a large screen Download Full Image

“Having more students successfully complete college science courses is a huge benefit to our society and will strengthen our nation’s competitiveness,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Efforts like these, which utilize technology to engage students in a more meaningful way and encourage them to learn science through the exploration of the worlds around them will be vital in removing traditional barriers to a college degree.”

Australia technology firm Smart Sparrow, a pioneer in adaptive learning authoring platforms, will provide tools that enable faculty to create and share digital courses, with an emphasis on allowing individual educators to exert pedagogical control and track student progress using sophisticated analytics.

As part of the launch of Inspark, more than 200 college and university faculty and administrators gathered to demo the new technology powering the network. The Jan. 16 event included a panel discussion featuring Crow, Nobel laureate Lee Hartwell, Maricopa Community Colleges executive vice chancellor and provost Maria Harper-Marinick and director of the ASU Origins Project Lawrence Krauss.

“The Inspark Science Network will empower teachers to create learning experiences that combine the power of adaptive learning with the magic of great classroom instruction,” said Dror Ben-Naim, CEO and founder of Smart Sparrow. “We are proud to establish a world-leading team of experts, and contribute toward creating tools that will have a lasting and significant impact on student success.”

The Inspark Science Network is an initiative of Smart Sparrow, in partnership with ASU’s newly established Center for Education Through Exploration. The center, directed by Ariel Anbar, a President’s Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at ASU, is an initiative designed to promote active learning, teaching science as the means by which we explore the unknown, rather than simply learning what is already known. Founding Inspark partners also include Achieving the Dream, The University of Texas at Arlington and e*mersion, a science animation company.

With help from Achieving the Dream, a national organization focused on improving outcomes for low-income and traditionally underserved students, Inspark will produce innovative courseware and work to ensure that faculty and community colleges around the country can access the network. George Siemens, executive director of The University of Texas at Arlington’s Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Lab, will lead a research effort to test the efficacy of the new courses and networks.

Anbar will guide the Inspark Science Network in developing “smart courses” that teach basic science concepts through the exploration of intriguing questions, placing traditional science content in a compelling context.

“We believe science is fundamental to teaching students how to be critical thinkers and successful contributors to the future of our society,” Anbar said. “This network will pull together like-minded professionals who are passionate about teaching and committed to ensuring that all students succeed.”

Representatives from community colleges across Arizona participated in the events on Jan. 16. Among the initial 24 teaching partners are universities and community colleges such as American Public University System, Houston Community College, Lorain County Community College and Miami Dade College.

Lisa Robbins

Editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications