Cherry on top: Prestigious teaching award to bring Texas professor to Baylor

Dr. Jay Banner, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of Texas, is the recipient of the Robert Foster Cherry Award. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jay Banner

By Caleb Wheeler | Staff Writer

Dr. Jay Banner is moving from Longhorn to Bear territory next year following his Robert Foster Cherry Award win.

The Cherry Award is designed to honor teachers who are bringing value to their field. Banner — who is a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of Texas — earned the $250,000 prize and a semester-long teaching position at Baylor. Additionally, his home department will receive $35,000 to develop better teaching opportunities and to assist in hiring a replacement while he is at Baylor.

“I’m looking forward to it so much,” Banner said. “I’m really excited. I’m honored. It’s humbling in a way. This is among the biggest … awards in the country for teaching. I’m enthused that such a thing exists because of the value it places on teaching.”

Banner said simply being among the finalists for the award put him in good company. The other finalists were Dr. Kelly Lambert, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond, and Dr. Claire Katz, a professor of philosophy and education at Texas A&M University.

In a previous interview with The Lariat prior to the announcement of the winner, Katz said, “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. To be recognized by another university is, I think, enormous.”

Banner said discussion with Baylor is currently underway, and he expects to teach at Baylor in spring 2025. He will be working within the department of environmental sciences and will likely be teaching introductory courses and potentially a class on environmental sustainability. Although he will be on teaching leave from the University of Texas, he said he has no intention of stopping his work there.

“I still have things at the University [of Texas] — a laboratory research group with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, undergraduate research assistants,” Banner said. “I don’t intend to drop that, but through the wonders of things like Zoom, we’re able to talk, and I plan to continue being able to advise my research collaborators at UT.”

Banner said he looks forward to the new opportunities to collaborate with Baylor professors and see their research potential.

“I’m trying to sort through what would be the best way to honor Robert Foster Cherry and what would serve Baylor students the best,” Banner said.

Banner said he thinks the Cherry Award offers a great opportunity to teach, learn and build relationships.

“There’s sort of a hybrid vigor … collaborating with other researchers and scholars in the same field of study that I’m in. I expect to learn a lot from them,” Banner said. “I also expect and hope to learn a lot from the students at Baylor and vice versa. Every time I teach a class, I find it to be a great learning experience.”