Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Coppola wins Carnegie/CASE U.S. Professor of the Year honor

In 2003 Pete Hasiaskos had “positively no interest in chemistry,” considering it “annoying.” But taking Brian Coppola’s class changed everything and today Hasiaskos teaches high school chemistry.

“He was the first person who was able to open my eyes to the type of ‘dialogue’ that necessarily exists between theory and experiment, between expectation and observation,” Hasiaskos recalls. “I began to see the ‘rules’ of chemistry not as ends-in-themselves but rather as the tip of an iceberg of inter-connected knowledge. Dr. Coppola often revealed to us that there was another layer to our seemingly simple question.”

Coppola, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry, has been selected as a 2009 U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Founded in 1981, the U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program is the only national program specifically designed to acknowledge outstanding undergraduate teaching. Coppola was selected from more than 300 top professors in the United States.

Mark Meyerhoff, acting chair of the chemistry department, notes that Coppola’s reputation for innovations in undergraduate education crosses national boundaries.

“Several years ago he initiated the chemistry department’s exchange program with Peking University, which brings Chinese undergraduates to our department for summer research participation and vice versa,” Meyerhoff says.

He adds that the adulatory student letters the department regularly receives about the impact of Coppola’s teaching on their lives include phrases such as “life-long mentor,” “single-most important influence” and “changed my life.”

Coppola also was instrumental in founding U-M’s IDEA Institute, a collaboration between the School of Education and LSA that brings together students and faculty from science, math and education fields to improve and advance undergraduate as well as precollege teaching and learning. He more recently initiated the Foundations for Undergraduate Teaching: Uniting Research and Education program.

Craig Nelson, a professor emeritus of biology at Indiana University who won a Professor of the Year award in 2000, said it was “astonishing” that Coppola already has had more than 60 articles published on teaching and related topics. He also praised Coppola’s emphasis on helping students “write the textbook” to improve their learning experience in a course.

Coppola joins William “Buzz” Alexander, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English language and literature, who won the U.S. Professor of the Year award in 2005, and Ralph Williams, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English language and literature, who was honored with the State of Michigan Professor of the Year Award for the last year.

Coppola previously was recognized with the state award in 2004, as were Burton Barnes, Arthur F. Thurnau professor emeritus and professor emeritus of forestry, in 1990; and the late history professor Sidney Fine, in 1986.

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