Dr. Conrad Toepfer, Associate Professor of Biology, has been named a National Academies Education Mentor in the Life Sciences for the 2015/2016 academic year. This honor is bestowed in recognition of Dr. Toepfer’s service as facilitator for participants at the 2015 National Academics Gulf Coast Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education that was held July 20-24, 2015 at Louisiana State University.
The Summer Institute is a direct result of a key recommendation from the 2003 National Research Council report, Bio2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists, which called for programs of professional development to engage faculty at research-intensive institutions in taking greater responsibility for high-quality undergraduate biology education. The report emphasizes the importance of new evidence-based pedagogical approaches to teaching based on emerging evidence about how people learn and a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching. It further calls upon college and university administrators, as well as funding agencies, to support faculty in the development or adaption of such approaches.
Since 2011, regional institutes based on the Summer Institute model have expanded participation to scientists at other types of colleges and universities and have focused on additional areas of undergraduate education compared to the original emphasis on the life sciences.
For this year, teams from 15 universities and colleges from across the United States, as well as Puerto Rico and Lebanon, assembled in Baton Rouge at LSU for five days of presentations, discussions, intensive group work and other activities, all focused on enhancing undergraduate education. ASctive learning, assessment, and diversity were the primary themes. Among the participants were department chairs, administrators, professors from all levels, academic coordinators, lecturers and instructors.
Each university team worked with other teams and their facilitators to develop or adapt a series of “teachable tidbits” that they have agreed to implement in a course during the coming academic year at their home institutions, and to assess whether students learn from that unit. Each team also has pledged to implement a mentoring seminar deigned to enhance the ability of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and others to mentor undergraduates on their campuses. Almost aoo participants at the Institute teach large introductory courses; collectively almost 900 alumni of the program team over 200,000 students annually.
As a facilitator, Dr. Toepfer joined others in the discipline that are at the forefront of improving undergraduate education, which is essential for preparing both future scientists and scientifically literate citizens.