Conferences & Events

Cottrell Scholar Conference

Winter Conference (2013)

AAU, Cottrell Scholars
Discuss joining forces

The Association of American Universities (AAU) is looking for allies in its urgent drive to improve STEM education among the AAU’s 62 member institutions.

Tobin Smith, AAU vice president for policy, told participants in the 2013 Cottrell Scholars Winter Conference that his organization welcomes the help of Cottrell Scholars.

Outstanding early-career teacher-scholars in Ph.D.-granting universities are accepted into the Cottrell Scholar (CS) Program -- about 10% of the faculty who apply -- via a rigorous peer-review process. In addition to presenting innovative research proposals, Cottrell Scholars are expected to be innovative teachers of undergraduate science students.

Or, as RCSA Interim President Jack Pladziewicz, told the conferees, “Not every faculty member in a research university can do both groundbreaking research and lead teaching improvement – but the very best can.”

Smith said AAU personnel have no problem reaching university officials at the provost and presidential levels, but, he added, “we also need support at the department level.” Numerous Cottrell Scholars expressed a willingness to help provide that support.

Early last year AAU President Hunter R. Rawlings III declared war on poor undergraduate teaching in physics, chemistry, biology, math, and engineering, particularly in the freshman and sophomore years.

“The combination of poor high school preparation and uninspiring freshman and sophomore pedagogy has produced a stunning dearth of science and engineering majors in the U.S.,” Rawlings noted.“Our country now falls well behind countries like China and India in turning out graduates with strong quantitative skills.“

Further talks are underway among leaders of the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative – composed of approximately 250 past and present CS awardees – and AAU officials, according to RCSA Program Director Silvia Ronco. 

Fourteen Cottrell Scholars from around the nation attended the Winter Conference February 1-2 in Tucson, Ariz. It was primarily a strategy and planning event, at which Scholars discussed RCSA-funded collaborative efforts to improve undergraduate education at American Ph.D.-granting institutions.

In welcoming Scholars to the conference, RCSA’s Pladziewicz noted that the belief that underpinned creation of the CS program was that there were young faculty in research universities “…so bright, so talented and so committed to the teacher-scholar model that they could do both frontier-breaking research and be leaders in their universities for teaching innovation and best practices for engaging students; and furthermore that they could lead institutional change to restore the balance between teaching and research by demonstrating that it could be done.”

It was also believed, Pladziewicz added, that it was essential to catch them in the first year or two of their careers “…before they had their idealism about teaching dulled by the march towards sufficient research productivity to get over the bar. Nonetheless, it was well understood that they could only truly become leaders on teaching improvement in a research-driven environment if they performed at the highest level on research.”

In 2011 RCSA began providing collaborative team awards to Scholars for new concepts leading to workable projects to improve undergraduate teaching. Winter Conference participants made presentations on seven of those projects:

  • A book and companion website of helpful advice for early career teacher-scholars;
  • An Internet-based data bank for effective science teaching methods;
  • Creating a two-day training session for new teaching assistants;
  • Developing effective methods to better evaluate teaching and learning;
  • An effort to create a comic strip for primary-school students depicting scientists as regular people;
  • Details on the Collaborative’s highly successful recent workshop for new chemistry faculty held in at the American Chemical Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., and;
  •  A report on efforts to create a Cottrell Collaborative “Think and Do Tank” to address important issues in science education.

In addition, Cottrell Scholars discussed effective practices in learning and pedagogy, as well as how to increase synergy among Collaborative members and their individual projects.

Cottrell Scholars attending the Winter Conference included Sarbajit Banerjee, Department of Chemistry, SUNY at Buffalo; Stephen Bradforth, Department of Chemistry, University of Southern California; Seth Cohen, Department of Chemistry, University of California at San Diego; Andrew Feig, Department of Chemistry, Wayne State University; Jordan Gerton, Department of Physics, University of Utah; Rigoberto Hernandez, Department of Chemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology; Michael Hildreth, Department of Physics, University of Notre Dame; Adam Leibovich, Department of Physics, University of Pittsburgh; James Martin, Department of Chemistry, North Carolina State University; Mats Selen, Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Jairo Sinova, Department of Physics, Texas A&M University; Bradley Smith, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Notre Dame; Scott Snyder, Department of Chemistry, Columbia University; and Rory Waterman, Department of Chemistry, University of Vermont.