Columbia Professor Nicholas Turro
joins a select group of six university science researchers and educators
nationwide who will receive the 2002 National Science Foundation
Awards for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. Turro, the William
P. Schweitzer Professor of Chemistry and faculty member in three
departments, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Earth and Environmental
Engineering, will receive the award for creating new computer-based
models for undergraduate chemistry studies and for developing mentoring
programs that involve undergraduates as collaborators on faculty
research. Turro's innovative teaching methods have been adopted
by college science educators across the country.
Turro is a cutting-edge researcher
who is leading advances in the use of photochemistry and spectroscopy
to reveal the structure and dynamics of supramolecular systems.
Since the start of the 1990s, he has been at the forefront of the
development of information technologies for the teaching of science.
He has received nearly $2 million
in funds over the past decade from the NSF, the Dreyfus Foundation,
Columbia and others to develop computer software and web-based learning
programs for teaching organic and physical chemistry and spectroscopy;
many of these programs are used in college science courses nationwide.
The Distinguished Teaching Scholars
awards were created in 2001 by NSF Director Rita Colwell to promote
interest among academics in creative new ways to teach undergraduate
science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to involve
students in research mentoring programs, including students not
majoring in these fields. Each winner receives $300,000 over four
years to expand their work beyond their own institutions. In addition
to Turro, professors from the University of California at Santa
Barbara, Boston and Princeton universities, and the universities
of Arizona and Colorado have won this year's awards, which will
be presented at a ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences in
Washington, D.C. on June 19.
Judith Ramaley, assistant director
for education and human resources at the NSF, praised this year's
winners for their creative approaches and devotion to teaching.
"The contributions of these six remarkable individuals set a standard
and provide models when we look for examples of outstanding teaching,"
she said in an announcement May 8. "Not only do these faculty members
help their students learn new skills and ideas but they also demonstrate
the integration of research and education through their practice
and inspire their students to conduct scholarship at the highest
In 1997 Turro organized a "Faculty-Student
Information Technology Cluster" which provided resources for faculty
in the sciences to develop IT tools for use in their courses. The
success of this teaching reform was recognized by the National Science
Foundation through a "Institutional Wide Reform of Science Education"
award to Columbia with Turro as the principle investigator. The
award allowed for the continued development of IT teaching tools
and provided a model for Columbia, which established its own center
for IT initiatives, the Center for New Media for Teaching and Learning,
in 1999. The Center assists faculty in many fields in the development
of interactive learning programs to enhance undergraduate and graduate
Turro's innovative teaching methods
are based on his belief that excellence and scholarship in teaching
and learning enables and inspires breakthroughs in research, and
that every intellectual activity stands on three pillars: content,
context and cognition. He found this out early in his career when
he volunteered to be a teaching assistant in undergraduate courses
while he was a graduate student with full support from a NSF fellowship.
He discovered that teaching undergraduates
expanded his own understanding of the course content, also giving
the material wider context, which proved, he said, "extremely powerful"
for his own understanding of his research on organic photochemistry.
In recent years Turro has studied educational research in teaching
and learning and has applied the lessons of this scholarship for
employing best practices of how students learn. He believes that
the integration of any course content with context and cognitive
methods will allow students to truly understand the material better.
"Content or "knowing what" has been
done in the past, acknowledging prior knowledge properly and applying
it to teaching and learning is the foundation of good scholarship,"
says Turro. "Context is the aspect of scholarship that produces
a 'know how to connect" knowledge in which meaning and motivation
is attached to the knowledge creation process. Cognition is the
"know why the connections are there" aspect of knowledge creation".
Turro also has been an innovator
in developing mentoring programs for undergraduate students, many
of them minority students, to work directly on research with faculty.
He has extended these programs to bring undergraduate visiting students
from the University of Richmond, the Claremont Colleges in California
and Diablo Valley Junior College in California to summer research
programs on spectroscopy and photochemistry at Columbia.
Department is recognized as one of the top 10 in the nation
with a faculty devoted to teaching. Several of its 21 professors
have received teaching awards. Chemistry Professors Ronald Breslow
and George Flynn both have received the Mark Van Doren Medal from
Columbia College in recognition of their teaching achievements.
Chemistry Professors Leonard Fine, Thomas Katz and George Flynn
have won Columbia University Presidential Awards for Teaching and
Professor Breslow also won the Great Teacher Award given by the
Turro, a graduate of Wesleyan University
who earned the Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology,
has taught at Columbia since 1964. He is the author of "Modern Molecular
Photochemistry," the standard text in the field for nearly four
decades and has published more than 700 research papers in established
scientific journals. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences
and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Sixty students have
obtained the Ph.D. and 170 post-doctoral students have been trained
under his supervision