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UW’s Prather Receives Freshman Teaching Honor


May 6, 2013 — For many first-year students at the University of Wyoming, the introductory general biology course (LIFE1010) is one of the most challenging classes they will take during their freshman year.

That’s because it is a large, lecture-based class -- with each section enrolling close to 200 students -- and because the subject matter is inherently difficult.

For those same reasons, LIFE 1010 is a challenging class to teach. But Jonathan Prather, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Zoology and Physiology, has been more than up to the task.

“Since he began teaching LIFE 1010, Dr. Prather has worked to help students overcome these course challenges and has become an absolutely outstanding teacher in this very demanding class,” wrote Harold Bergman, head of the Department of Zoology and Physiology, and Mark Lyford, director of the Life Sciences Program. “Dr. Prather could easily have sought the path of least resistance by simply lecturing and not working to engage students. But he has put in the considerable effort necessary to become a successful teacher in this challenging teaching assignment.”

In recognition of his outstanding freshman-level teaching and enthusiastic response from students in his classroom, Prather is the recipient of UW’s 2013 Beatrice Gallatin Beuf Golden Apple of the Hesperides Award. It was established in 1986 by Beatrice Gallatin Beuf of Big Horn to recognize teaching excellence in freshman-level courses in the UW College of Arts and Sciences, as she believed teachers at that level can best inspire students to discover and learn.

The final selection of the award winner is made by a committee of Arts and Sciences students.

“I literally have nothing but praise for Dr. Prather,” one of his students wrote. “LIFE 1010 scared me a ton, and thanks to Dr. Prather, it has become my favorite class. Dr. Prather is not only the best professor I’ve had in my very short collegiate career, but one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, period.”

Prather, who also teaches an upper-level graduate course in the neurosciences program, was praised by his undergraduate students for being accessible after lectures to answer questions. Recognizing that many students were ill-prepared for the class, he also has developed an evening session for students on “how to be successful in LIFE 1010 and college.”

In addition, he recently received an award from the NASA Space Grant Consortium to develop new curricula to promote active learning in the course with several colleagues.

“This work, along with dozens of other examples, demonstrates that Dr. Prather seeks to make the often intangible concepts of biology relevant, an effort that is recognized and appreciated in a number of written comments by students,” Bergman and Lyford wrote. “This work with his colleagues is now being picked up by other instructors in the course, thus pushing the pedagogical practices in LIFE 1010 to a new level.”

His evaluations by students are outstanding, with about 90 percent of them rating his teaching as excellent or good.

Prather, who joined the UW faculty in 2009, hold a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Emory University. He did postdoctoral work in neurobiology and biology at Duke University.

Photo:
Jonathan Prather, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Zoology and Physiology, is the winner of the 2013 Beatrice Gallatin Beuf Golden Apple of the Hesperides Award, which recognizes teaching excellence in freshman-level courses in the UW College of Arts and Sciences. (UW Photo)

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