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Rachel Watson Receives Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award

April 25, 2011
Woman in a lab
Rachel Watson teaches students in a general microbiology laboratory. (UW Photo)

An instructor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources whose nominations are peppered with "very best," "wonderful," "passion," and "enthusiasm" has received the University of Wyoming's John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award.

Rachel Watson, lecturer in the Department of Molecular Biology, was tapped for the award established in 1977 by businessman John P. "Jack" Ellbogen, to "foster, encourage, and reward excellence in classroom teaching at UW." Other recipients this year are Susan Frye, a professor in the Department of English, and Margaret Flanigan, associate lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Physiology.

"I would rank her as among the very best instructors at the University of Wyoming," said Mark Stayton, associate professor and chair of the department.

Added Jim Wangberg, associate dean and director of the Office of Academic and Student Programs in the college, "She is arguably the college's best classroom teacher and educator and among the university's elite educators.

Watson teaches primarily lower-division microbiology lecture and laboratory courses and on-line, upper division biochemistry courses in the summer.

"Her biochemistry class has proven so popular we have been forced to limit enrollment beginning next summer," said Stayton.

She draws praise for her teaching style and dedication to students.

"Rachel inoculates them with an honest enthusiasm for science, and she demonstrates a true interest in the welfare of students," noted Stayton.

She brings innovation to the classroom, noted one student.

"She uses contemporary technology combined with a flexible teaching style for a dynamic environment that is unlike any I have ever seen," said James Caitlin Caines, a microbiology undergraduate student.

She provides a website from which all labs and lectures come, he said. She furnishes podcasts of each lecture, providing audio as well as a video of the notes and auxiliary drawings as she lectures.

Her interest in and caring for students was also noted.

"Rachel makes the special effort to truly get to know all of her students, no minor task given the large size of her classes," said Wangberg.

Caines said Watson accomplished in three days what few previous instructors could do in an entire semester -  learn his name.

Her gift is not just enthusiasm and dedication, said Wangberg.

"It is also a high level of creativity and passion for improving," he noted. "Rachel thrives on fresh approaches to learning and will investigate the literature, utilize the latest instructional technologies, interact with others and take advantage of professional development opportunities for continued growth."

A UW faculty member since 2001, Watson received five Mortar Board Top Prof awards; two of the college's Lawrence Meeboer Outstanding Teacher Awards; and an RSO Outstanding Adviser award.

Watson earned a bachelor's degree from Denver University in 1998 and her master's in molecular biology from UW in 2001. She is working toward a doctor of education degree in instructional technology at UW.

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