February 16, 2010

Professor Harris-Warrick Receives New Distinguished Teaching Fellowship

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Prof. Ron Harris-Warrick, neurobiology, has been named the Menschel Distinguished Teaching Fellow for 2010-2011, the first time the award has been given. The award if a new distinction funded by a donation from the Menschel family to promote teaching excellence at the University.

Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education, said the award’s goal was to find a distinguished faculty member to work with the Center for Teaching Excellence and University faculty to explore new ideas and opportunities for teaching on campus.

“[The award is] a brand new program, so we’ll be designing from scratch,” Harris-Warrick said. “I’m really honored and I will take the responsibility seriously and put a lot of work in.”

“I want to take advantage of the outstanding teachers and enlist them,” he said. “Cornell gives out Weiss awards every year, so I want to get people together who have won to come up with new ideas,” he said, referencing awards given for distinguished undergraduate teaching.

Harris-Warrick also wants to work toward designing programs for new assistant professors at the University. “Most are only trained in research, not teaching, so I want to come up with ways to give them some tricks of the trade and teach them methods that are effective for Cornell students,” he said.

“We’ve also talked about other options, like translating successful teaching methods across subjects,” Brown said. This means seeing if methods that successfully engage students in biology are just as effective for history teachers. “These are the kinds of things that we don’t often think about.”

“It’s easy to think about an artist being creative. It should be just as easy for an engineer, or a scientist, or a historian,” Harris-Warrick said.

According to Harris-Warrick, the focus is on improving ways of active learning, not just rote memorization.

Harris-Warrick has been teaching at Cornell since 1980, and has been recognized for implementing these ideas in his classes. He was a Weiss presidential fellow in 2008, and has received awards such as the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Edgerton Career Teaching Award.

He currently teaches Neurobiology and Behavior 2220: Introduction to Neurobiology, as well as an upper-level course on drugs and the brain, which deals with the effects of psychoactive drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, LSD, alcohol and marijuana.

“Every week I present my students with a problem in neuropharmacology that no one has answered. The hope is that students end up becoming active creators of ideas,” Harris-Warrick said.

He wants to do this in every class across the University.

“A lot of professors at Cornell really love to teach. It’s a dirty secret at a research university, that some enjoy teaching more,” he said. “It would be nice if at the end, people didn’t mind saying it out loud.”

Original Author: Laura Shepard