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Students choose inspiring teachers to give 'Last Lectures'

April 20, 2009

Three talented faculty members who are known for their ability to inspire students have been chosen for the 14th annual Last Lecture Series this month. Every year students nominate their favorite teachers, those who make them want to attend every class and strive to excel, though their courses are often the most difficult.

The annual honor asks the selected teachers to speak on any topic close to their hearts, as if it were the last lecture they would ever give. The events are free and open to the public, each beginning with a 7 p.m. reception followed by a 7:30 p.m. talk in the Pima room of the Memorial Union.

John Lynch, lecturer in Barrett, the Honors College, will speak on “Wolves and Creationists and Nietzche, Oh My!” on April 23.

Jane Maienschein, Regents' Professor and President's Professor in the School of Life Sciences, will talk about “Will Stem Cells Make us Smarter, or Live Longer, or What?” on April 27.

Stephanie deLuse, lecturer in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program, will speak on “Problems, Paradoxes and Pleasures: Life Lessons Learned from Teaching” on April 30.

Lynch tells his students that an undergraduate degree is only the beginning of a journey of possibilities, not the determinant of a person’s future path. He’ll talk about his own journey as a young Irish scientist who came to ASU to do research and discovered a love of teaching when he was asked to teach a combined science and humanities course.

“The key to success is to take opportunities when they present themselves, no matter how they draw you outside your formal training,” says Lynch, who was named Arizona Professor of the Year two years ago by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

“I’ll talk about the joys of Nietzche, the politics of evolution and pains of grading, with adventures along the way.”

Malvika Sinha, a student who nominated Lynch, says during the freshman honors Human Event class he asked difficult, challenging questions that prodded students to think about things from a completely different angle. He helped each student become a better writer and thinker, continually raising the bar higher.

Maienschein feels passionately that every citizen should have enough understanding of science that they can develop an informed view of today’s important issues, such as stem cell research. She has given educational seminars for federal judges on the topic.

“My passion is to lay out the science really, really clearly, so we all have a shared understanding and can talk about the social issues,” she says. “We need the chance to bring together young people with keen minds and eagerness to learn, across multiple disciplines. We can think together through the questions in order to develop ways to get answers.”

Maienschein takes great interest in each of her students, says student Cera Lawrence, and is “warm and joyous” in her interactions with them.

DeLuse plans to use her teaching career and experiences with students as a mirror for insights about life, weaving in content highlights from her interdisciplinary classes.

“Insights on money, meaning, relationships, communication, diversity, organizations, thinking from different perspectives, health and decision making might show up in the lecture,” she says. “I’ll write from both my heart and my head, using the variety of challenges, opportunities and paradoxes of the classroom as an analogue for how we approach life.”

Two students who nominated deLuse praised her ability to encourage and motivate them, inspiring them to do their best.

The Last Lecture Series is sponsored by ASU Student Engagement at the Tempe campus.