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Meet Rachel


Rachel Watson is a Senior Academic Professional Lecturer in UW’s Chemistry Department and Microbiology Program. She is the Director of the Learning Actively Mentoring Program, a holistic training program that immerses educators in learner-centered, evidence-based pedagogical practices.  Rachel also directs the Queer Studies minor program within School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice.

Rachel’s research centers on active, inclusive learning modalities and she is part of an international research team that studies learner self-assessment. Utilizing a knowledge survey called the Science Literacy Concept Inventory, this team has collected more than 25,000 measures of learner’s competence (knowledge) and self-assessed competence (confidence). This research has disproved the long-held hypothesis, called the Dunning-Kruger effect, that posited that most people are overconfident as compared to their actual competence. Rachel was lead author on the most recent publication in this series which, in addition to further supporting the merit of learner self-assessment, utilized self-assessment measures to enable better understanding of privilege.

Rachel embeds social and environmental justice into every class she teaches. This is particularly poignant in her Microbiology Capstone course that she designed, developed, implemented and assessed and that has now evolved into a transdisciplinary course. Students in this course use field-based, wet lab and computational techniques to seek solutions to community problems. This semester, students in this course partnered with Wyoming Public Health Labs (WPHL) to use computational, epidemiological approaches to 1) statistically model COVID-19 underreporting and COVID-19 susceptibility based on socioeconomic status, wage inequality, insurance coverage, and racial background; 2) understand impacts of human mobility, air pollution, wind speed and elevation on COVID-19 case and mortality rates; 3) identify correlations between food environment, diet, obesity and COVID-19 outcomes within Wyoming.

In her twenty years of teaching at UW, Rachel has received nearly fifty teaching awards including the University of Wyoming’s highest teaching honor called the John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award. She is also the recipient of the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice Faculty Award and the Own It: Women in Science Committee Choice Award.

Rachel knits together her love of science educational development with her social justice passion as the PI for the University of Wyoming’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Inclusive Excellence Challenge (the HHMI IE3). This proposal advanced to the next stage of the competition; UW is fortunate to be one of only fifteen institutions nationwide to be part of a national learning community re-envisioning inclusive collaborations between 2-year and 4-year institutions.         

For more than twenty-two years, Rachel has been the volunteer co-coach of the University of Wyoming Men’s and Women’s Nordic Ski Teams. In that time, the team has skied to thirteen United States Collegiate Championship team titles, twenty-three individual titles and boasts 100 Academic All-Americans. In 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 & 2019, Rachel was the head coach for Team USA at the World University Games in Turkey, Italy, Slovakia, Kazakhstan and Russia. In synergy with these abroad experiences, Rachel has designed, developed and assessed action learning courses including Skiing and Climate Change, Environmental Assessment of an International Athletic Event and The Body as Planet, The Planet as a Body. In 2019, Rachel co-designed the UW-Shanghai University of Sport Nordic Ski Training Program. Through this program, ten student athletes from Shanghai became teammates with the UW skiers. They learned to Nordic ski at an elite level, and evolved their coaching skills and pedagogy through a course that Rachel co-developed called The Art and Science of Nordic Ski Racing.

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