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Elser honored as parents' top professor

April 16, 2009

Keeping the attention of 800 non-science majors in biology each semester. Teaching undergraduates to think independently. Unearthing a solution to cancer and infection. Measuring the effects of human activity on small ecosystems. James Elser, professor of biology in ASU's School of Life Sciences, is all of this and more and the reason why the ASU Parents Association named him the 2009 Professor of the Year.

Elser was honored at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Excellence event April 16 in front of more than 250 ASU faculty members, students, staff, administrators, parents and friends who gathered in the Memorial Union’s Arizona Ballroom. An ASU professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1990, Elser was chosen from 39 colleagues as a true element of change — dedicated to solving the challenges of our time and inspiring his students to do the same.

“Having worked with Jim for more than 20 years, I can say he is the kind of professor that you hope your own child will be fortunate to have,” says Charles Kazilek, director of technology integration and outreach in the School of Life Sciences. Kazilek nominated Elser for the honor. “His enthusiastic delivery of subject matter is clearly engaging for the students in his non-major biology class, a class of nearly 800 students per semester. By my count, since coming to ASU, he has taught over 12,000 undergraduate students.”

Kazilek also remarked that Elser is a true asset to the community in the School of Life Sciences as director of research and training initiatives, bringing in a substantial number of research activities to faculty and students.

“(Professor) Elser never forgets what gets most people interested in science — getting in touch with the beauty and wonder of the living world,” says Kazilek. With this in mind, Elser established the "SOLS Takes a Hike" event, a series of guided hikes in local parks.

The April 16 announcement not only marked the culmination of more than four months of community collaboration to choose one top ASU Professor for this honor, but also the Parents Association’s 25th anniversary. Since 1984, this organization has supported student success, family togetherness and teaching excellence as evidenced by programs like the Professor of the Year award.

Professor of the Year is funded through an endowment through the ASU Parents Association. In addition to the prestigious designations, the Professor of the Year receives $20,000 — $10,000 of which funds undergraduate student assistance and is distributed over two years.

In addition to Elser’s honor, the selection committee designated five additional nominees for special recognition for their teaching and scholarship, each of whom receives a $1,000 cash award. This year’s special recognition awardees were:

•    Eric Kostelich, professor, mathematics and statistics

•    José Náñez, professor, social and behavioral sciences

•    Shannon Ringenbach, associate professor, kinesiology

•    Chell Roberts, chair and professor, engineering

•    F. Miguel Valenti, Lincoln Professor of Ethics and the Arts, and the film and media production program director, film and theatre

The other 33 nominees this year also set a high precedent for teaching at ASU and were applauded for their efforts at the event, as well. Their contributions can be found at

The ASU Parents Association Professor of the Year award was given for the first time in 1994 and has been awarded 13 times. Thanks to the continued generosity of ASU families and the participation of ASU students, faculty and staff, the ASU Parents Association is able to award this prestigious honor on an annual basis.