ASU teacher earns 2007 Arizona Professor of Year
John Lynch, an honors faculty fellow in Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, has won the 2007 Arizona Professor of the Year. The honor comes from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
The title is a rare honor for a 39-year-old lecturer. The prestigious award, which is part of the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring, generally is given to tenured professors.
Lynch received the award Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C., after being selected from more than 300 top professors in the United States.
He is known for demanding high standards from his students, yet he receives enthusiastic teaching evaluations. Lynch is said to be a dedicated and patient thesis director, mentoring and directing numerous undergraduate honors theses over the past seven years. He also shapes the national teaching of science issues in his work with the National Center for Science Education and other nationwide groups.
“John Lynch is an extraordinary educator whose exemplary dedication to students and scholarly approach to teaching has a wide-ranging impact on undergraduate education at ASU, the community and the nation,” says Mark Jacobs, Barrett’s dean, who nominated Lynch.
Lynch, a native of Ireland, was intent on doing research when he joined ASU in 1994 after getting his doctorate in biology from University College Dublin. He discovered a love of teaching once he was asked to teach a combined science and humanities course.
Reaching across disciplines to open young minds was thrilling, he says.
“I found I really liked it when I could get non-science majors interested in science, and get science majors to think about the history and philosophy and social impact of science,” Lynch says. “There were a lot of ‘Aha!’ moments. When the opportunity came to teach at the Honors College in the fall of 2000, I took it.”
Lynch teaches the core honors humanities course, “The Human Event,” each semester to small groups of freshmen. But he also continues teaching 300-level lecture courses in history and philosophy of biology to large classes while maintaining an active agenda of scholarship.
As an evolutionary biologist and specialist in geometric morphometrics, Lynch regularly publishes peer-reviewed scientific papers in leading journals. His science blog, “Stranger Fruit,” was listed by the journal Nature as the 18th-most-popular science blog worldwide written by a credentialed scientist. He also co-created an evolutionary biology blog, “Panda’s Thumb,” to spur a national discourse on K-12 education standards.
As for his impact on ASU undergraduates, the comments on student evaluations are telling. They include:
• “He is the most motivating teacher I ever had. … He made me want to learn.”
• “Awesome class – makes this political science major not hate biology anymore.”
• “He loves what he teaches – you can feel and see it in his lectures.”
Other students attribute Lynch for their acceptance into graduate school or for winning national scholarships, through his guidance and mentoring. Lynch also shares his teaching methods with other faculty members, mentoring new faculty fellows and teaching university-level workshops.
“John Lynch is always teaching, always learning and always promoting discovery in the community in which he lives,” says Jane Maienschein, Regents’ Professor in the School of Life Sciences. “He does a terrific job of exciting students about learning, and there is a good reason his courses are always full.
“But more than that, his impact extends well beyond ASU. He has played important roles in helping to shape the state of Arizona science standards with respect to evolution, and he plays a leadership role in the education committees of several international societies. He takes seriously the importance of engagement with the community, at all levels.”
Lynch says he was “stunned” to receive the award, and he credits the support he has received over the years from Jacobs and from Peggy Nelson, associate dean. He is one of 40 state winners throughout the nation.
CASE and the Carnegie Foundation have been partners in awarding Professors of the Year since 1981. CASE is the largest international association of education institutions, serving more than 3,300 schools in 55 countries. The foundation is the only advanced-study center for teachers in the world.