Baylor announces three finalists for 2024 Cherry Award

Dr. Claire Katz (left), Dr. Jay Banner (middle), Dr. Kelly Lambert (right) are the 2024 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching finalists. Photos courtesy of Baylor University

By Shelby Peck | Staff Writer

Baylor announced the three finalists selected for the 2024 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, a prestigious award opened to faculty from across the nation and various academic departments.

The financial award of $250,000, which is offered every two years, comes from an endowment left by the late Baylor alum Robert Foster Cherry.

“It’s such an amazing gift from an alum that continues to pay dividends for generations of students to follow,” Kevin Dougherty, chair of the Cherry Award Committee, said. “No other university has the type of teaching award that we offer in the size and the scope of the Cherry Award. Cherry wanted future generations of students to have exposure to the very best college teachers in the world.”

The three finalists for the 2024 award — Dr. Jay Banner, Dr. Claire Katz and Dr. Kelly Lambert — were selected from a pool of nominees by a committee of Baylor faculty. The committee evaluates the strategies the faculty use to build relationships with their students to help them connect to the content they are studying.

The committee is responsible for advertising the opening of nominations every two years, as well as reviewing the many nominations through a multi-faceted system. Three individuals become semi-finalists while three other individuals become finalists and are offered the opportunity to travel to Baylor to engage in teaching opportunities.

“We look for individuals that have a record of outstanding and innovative teaching on their campus, but also an impact on teaching and learning beyond their campus. … We consider the legacy of their impact on students,” Dougherty said. “A part of the nomination packet is student letters. We look for students who have gone on to do great things themselves because of their interaction with the faculty member.”

Part of the Cherry Award is the opportunity for the winning faculty to spend a semester in residence at Baylor, leaving their impact on students by teaching various courses in their respective specialty. How they interact with students, graduate students and other faculty is an integral component of their selection for the award.

“We are in the process now of inviting our finalists to campus in the fall. … We’ll be selecting the 2024 Cherry Award Winner based on those campus visits,” Dougherty said.

Students interested in taking the classes taught by Cherry Award winners can visit a display case on the second floor of Moody Library that is devoted to the award. The classes offered are also available in the online schedule of classes.

“It’s such a unique opportunity for our students to be able to learn from what we would argue is the best college professor in the world,” Dougherty said. “Having the opportunity to bring these outstanding teachers to campus and then allowing our students the chance to be in a course with them and learn from them is such a unique opportunity, so distinctive to Baylor.”

The 2022 Cherry Award winner, Dr. Hollylynne Lee, teaches mathematics and statistics education at North Carolina State University, but currently resides in Waco for the spring semester to teach education courses.

“We try to make sure that she has the opportunity to engage formally in classes and sessions with students but also informally,” Trena Wilkerson, previous Cherry Award Committee member and professor of mathematics education, said.

Throughout her semester at Baylor, Lee has engaged students by hosting seminars with senior education students pertaining to their teaching internships, attended brown-bag lunches with graduate education students, as well as teaching education courses.

“She’s a tremendous model for them because they get to see how to engage students,” Wilkerson said. “She models what she talks about. … One of the beauties of having someone like Dr. Lee on campus is while she has a particular discipline area that she teaches in, her great teaching expands all disciplines.”

Lee’s campus legacy will be continued by the next faculty selected as winner of the 2024 Cherry Award — based on the finalist, courses could be offered by faculty specialized in geology, philosophy of education or behavioral neuroscience.