Cherry Award lectures to bring philosophy, neuroscience, geoscience expertise

The Robert Foster Cherry Award recognizes Dr. Claire Katz (left), Dr. Jay Banner (center) and Dr. Kelly Lambert (right). Photo courtesy of Robert Foster Cherry Award

By Tyler White | Staff Writer

From philosophy camp to “brain-sculpting” to Texas resiliency, the finalists of the Cherry Award will bring their expertise to Baylor’s campus in their upcoming public lectures. These lectures will be an opportunity for the finalists to share their research and teaching with the Baylor community.

The Robert Foster Cherry Award is designed to honor teachers across the country. The finalists for the award have the opportunity to share a public lecture on their expertise.

Dr. Jay Banner, director of the environmental science institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said he’s honored to be acknowledged for his teaching. He said he didn’t initially plan on being a professor, primarily focusing on research, yet he grew to develop a love for teaching.

“I think what really gets me going the most about it is that there is some mechanism for honoring great teaching or people who take teaching seriously and work hard at it and are good at it,” Banner said. “I think there’s just not enough recognition of people who teach.”

Banner said his public lecture — “21st Century Texas: Climate, water, science and society” — will focus on the evidence-based findings of future complications in Texas. He said the records of changes in Texas in population, water supply and climate point to a future of megadroughts that will be difficult to manage.

“[I’m] trying to paint this picture that there’ll be changes like we haven’t seen before. There’ll be impacts on many sectors of our society like we haven’t seen before,” Banner said. “But yet, at the same time, there are some paths to solutions that we can reasonably take.”

Banner said he doesn’t have all the solutions, but he wants people to hear about what’s happening so that they can get involved and act.

“There’s been nothing like it in the history of this region, this state, … just this land going back 1,000 years and more,” Banner said. “The population will boom. Natural resources will change in dramatic ways. And Texas will be a very, very different place in which to live, unless we take steps to both mitigate against the changes and adapt to the changes.”

Another finalist, Dr. Kelly Lambert, professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond, said she’s grateful for the opportunity to be recognized for her teaching. She said it has been great working with the committee and being a part of those selected as finalists.

“[I am] certainly honored,” Lambert said. “I’m under no illusion that I’m the best or one of the best professors, but certainly I’ve been at it a long time. … I’m also just so intrigued by an award for teaching. Most of the awards for professors are for scholarship and research.”

In her public lecture entitled “Brain Sculpting: Stranger than fiction tales of neuroplasticity,” Lambert said she will focus on the remarkable stories and examples of how the brain grows and progresses. She said it is something everyone can learn about because everyone has a brain.

“I’m very much a brain enthusiast, and I wanted to incorporate some of the very interesting … stories related to neuroplasticity,” Lambert said. “And neuroplasticity is the ability of our brains to change, as I say, from the womb to the tomb.”

Finally, Dr. Claire Katz, professor of philosophy and education at Texas A&M University, said she appreciates being acknowledged for her teaching. She said it’s been a great experience to be recognized, not just at her own university but by another university that sees her efforts.

“I think anytime you’re recognized for your teaching, and I say that speaking for myself, I think that’s huge — when you’re recognized by your peers, by your institution, by your discipline,” Katz said. “To be recognized by another university is, I think, enormous.”

In her lecture — “Inquiring Minds: Philosophical Communities and Transformational Education” — Katz said she wants people to walk away remembering that education and philosophical intellect are joyful.

“We often talk about it in terms of its usefulness, that critical thinking and creative thinking and writing and all those things are important, but I think that we often forget that education is fun,” Katz said. “Learning is fun, and learning collaboratively is fun and engaging.”

In her efforts, Katz has been able to start a philosophy summer camp, Aggie School of Athens, and educator workshops to help bring this education to students. She said she wants these to be opportunities for students to learn in a different way and focus on a new side of intellect.

“All of [the students’] courses throughout the day are disconnected from each other, and what philosophy did for me, and what it does for them, is helped them learn how to ask questions that actually connects their English class to their math class to their physics class,” Katz said.

The public lectures will take place on Baylor’s campus. Banner’s lecture will be on Oct. 24, Lambert’s lecture on Oct. 30 and Katz’s lecture on Nov. 6.

Tyler White is a senior Journalism major from Yorba Linda, California, with minors in religion and philosophy. He is most looking forward to developing his writing and reporting craft in the Lariat and to work alongside other writers. As a member of the Baylor Coed Cheer team, he enjoys supporting all Baylor sports. After graduation, he plans on going to grad school and eventually working in publication for the music industry.