Robert Foster Cherry Award finalists to lecture, compete

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

Three finalists for the 2012 Robert Foster Cherry Award will visit Baylor at various times over the next five weeks to present lectures, with one ultimately winning the award designed to honor great teachers.

Finalists for the Cherry Award are nominated by their fellow faculty members and former students. The winner of the Cherry Award will teach in residence at Baylor during the fall 2012 or spring 2013 semester and will receive a prize of $250,000.

Their academic department at their home university will also receive $25,000.

Dr. Michael Thompson, chair of the Robert Foster Cherry Award Committee, wrote in an email to the Lariat that everyone involved with the nomination and selection process is positively impacted by this award.

“Based on my experience with the award, it is very gratifying for me to see the thoughtful reflection of the nominators and former students as they describe the powerful influence that teachers have had on the lives of students,” Thompson said.

Dr. Allen Matusow, W.G. Twyman professor of history at Rice University, will be the first finalist to present his lecture, which will take place at 3:30 p.m. Monday in the Kayser Auditorium of the Hankamer School of Business.

Matusow said his lecture, “Did Reagan Win the Cold War?” is a good topic for undergraduate students. Matusow, who is currently in his 49th year of teaching at Rice, said he was surprised to find out he had been chosen as a finalist.

“To be honest I was pretty much amazed that such a great honor had come my way, and I hope to go [to Baylor] and show [the committee] they did not make a mistake,” he said.

Matusow said he is also looking forward to engaging students at Baylor and getting to know them when he visits.

He said he believes winning the award and being able to teach at Baylor for a semester would enrich his experiences as a teacher.

“[Teaching] at Baylor for a semester would be a great experience teaching at a great university with students who may be different from Rice students, and I would get a new dimension out of my experience as a teacher,” Matusow said.

The second finalist to present at Baylor will be Dr. Heather Macdonald, chancellor professor of geology at the College of William and Mary. Her lecture will take place at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 24 in D109 Baylor Sciences Building.

Macdonald said her lecture, “Behind the Scenes: From Strong Geoscience Courses to an Energized Community,” will give the audience a better understanding of what professors do to create a thriving learning environment and a strong community.

Macdonald, who is currently in her 28th year of teaching at William and Mary, said she was also surprised to find out she had been named a finalist and is looking forward to meeting faculty and students when she visits.

“I am looking forward to meeting people at Baylor, learning about Baylor itself and talking to people about what they are doing there,” Macdonald said. “It is a really lovely opportunity and I look forward to sharing ideas with people.”

Macdonald, said if she receives the award and spends a semester teaching at Baylor, she would like to take advantage of the opportunity to study the geology of Central Texas.

“As a geologist, I am always interested in the geology of other areas. Winning this award would give me the opportunity to learn about the interesting geology that is in the area around Baylor,” Macdonald said.

The third finalist to present at Baylor will be Dr. Brian Coppola, Arthur F. Thurnau professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan. His lecture will take place at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 2 in D109 Baylor Sciences Building.

Coppola, who is currently spending the year in Beijing, wrote in an email to the Lariat that his lecture, “The Liberal Art of Chemisty: Stories about Human Nature,” will explain how broad, diverse ideas enrich one’s understanding of anything and everything, including chemistry. Coppola, who has taught at Michigan for 25 years, said he was thrilled to learn he was named as a finalist.

“I consider it a tribute to all the terrific students I have been privileged to work with over the years,” Coppola said. “I think that the Cherry Award must be somewhere between the Academy Award and the Nobel Prize for honoring the act of classroom teaching, something that is often overlooked.”

Coppola said if he is named as the winner of the award, he would like to take the opportunity to emphasize traditional values he has about the importance of excellence in classroom teaching.

“I’d like to hope this incredibly visible platform would allow me to bring some attention to some core values about education, such as the cultivation of mutual, life-long learning between people,” Coppola said. “I hope that my prospective students and colleagues at Baylor will be as open to learning from me as I am from them.”

Thompson described this year’s finalists as remarkable.

“They have impressive teaching credentials and have won numerous teaching awards at their home institutions,” Thompson said.

“Each finalist has a strong record of scholarship, and importantly, the finalists have a track record of taking the time to involve undergraduate students in their scholarship efforts,” he added.

Thompson said the Cherry Award, which has a national reputation for recognizing great teaching, a natural for Baylor.

“Baylor is committed to great teaching. The fact that the winner spends a semester teaching at Baylor also provides valuable opportunities for students and faculty to interact and share experiences with a great teacher,” Thompson said.

Robert Foster Cherry, Baylor and Baylor Law School graduate, created the biennial award.