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Naomi Ward Praised for Course Design, Drive for UW Student Success

April 29, 2013
Naomi Ward

Turning traditional course design upside down, her enthusiasm for teaching and her drive for students to succeed are among reasons assistant professor Naomi Ward has received the University of Wyoming’s highest teaching honor.

The John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award was 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 Peter Parolin, associate professor in the Department of English; and Doug Russell, associate professor in the Department of Art.

Ward, who has a split position between the Department of Molecular Biology (75 percent) and the Department of Botany, is in her sixth year as a UW faculty member.

“Naomi is simply a gifted teacher,” says Anne Sylvester, a molecular biology professor and director of UW's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ESPCoR). “She excels not only in content delivery, but in designing courses that are relevant and rigorous.”

Pamela Langer, associate professor in molecular biology, agrees. Ward designed the microbial diversity and ecology course to have a relatively small amount of lecture and a large lab component.

“The course was designed to address the need to enhance student critical thinking through problem-based learning and student achievement of learning goals by using a backward-design approach,” says Langer. “She first identified the intellectual and practical goals that she wanted students to achieve and then designed a course to accomplish this.”

The course also combines field trips around Wyoming with cutting-edge analysis of field samples.

“Such hands-on learning experiences promote reasoning skills and practical knowledge -- these are essential topics that add rigor to science curricula, but are currently lacking in universities nationally,” says Sylvester. “Naomi should be commended for detecting this need in the UW and national science curriculum, and for single-handedly and creatively designing a course that fulfills the highest of scientific teaching standards.”

Ward received her doctorate from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom; and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Queensland, Australia.

She exudes enthusiasm for her job as an educator, says Gerry Andrews, UW Department of Veterinary Sciences associate professor.

“As director for the university’s inter-departmental undergraduate microbiology program, I receive unsolicited comments about many of the courses from students in the program on a regular basis,” he says. “In every case, the student comments about Dr. Ward’s microbial diversity and ecology course have been stellar.”

Molecular biology master’s student Jacob Greenlee of Powell says he felt fortunate to have taken two of her classes.

“Her evident fervor for the course material also makes learning from her fun,” he says.

Greenlee also noted Ward’s willingness to spend time outside the classroom for supplemental instruction and the availability of the information on the course website.

“In addition to Dr. Ward’s advanced teaching methods, there is one more quality that she exhibits that qualifies her among the university’s best: her old-fashioned, genuine drive for her students to succeed,” says Stephen Denton, a molecular biology major from Parker, Colo. “Dr. Ward would be so excited and knowledgeable about each lecture that I was excited to learn it.”

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