Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Danith Ly and Jon Minden Win Mellon College of Science Awards for Education
Danith Ly and Jon Minden—winners of this year’s Mellon College of Science awards for education—will be recognized at the University Celebration of Education ceremony on April 25. Their accomplishments will be further celebrated at the Mellon College of Science annual meeting on May 7.
Julius Ashkin Teaching Award: Danith Ly
Associate Professor of Chemistry Danith Ly received the Julius Ashkin Teaching Award for his unusual devotion and effectiveness in teaching undergraduate students. A former student writing in support of Ly’s nomination called him “one of the most influential and memorable professors I had at Carnegie Mellon.” Students sign up in droves for his Bioorganic I and II classes, which are so popular that the number of students on the waitlist almost exceeds the number of students enrolled in the classes. Ly’s classes aren’t in high demand because they are easy. On the contrary, students say that the topics covered—and the manner in which Ly covers them—pushes them outside of their comfort zones.
“Many of the topics we were learning were very new and the problems we were tackling were ones that have no answers yet, a situation that was very new for most of us—these were things we couldn’t Google if we were stuck,” says a student.
Ly’s bioorganic courses go beyond teaching the fundamentals of nucleic acids, carbohydrates and proteins by asking students to work on current research questions. Ly’s approach incorporates a team project that requires students to develop a hypothesis and a research study to tackle a question that has yet to be answered by scientists working in the field today. Topics range from designing an effective method of treating genetic disorders to developing a novel method to target HIV infection. “This ability to apply knowledge to new situations is, I think, the most valuable kind of learning, and was made possible for me by Dr. Ly,” says a student.
“More than any particular subject, he taught us that chemistry (and science in general) gives us the ability to solve big problems. It is impossible to understate how valuable that lesson was,” says a former student, who recently finished a doctorate in nucleic acid chemistry at a top graduate school.
One student best summarizes Ly’s impact in the classroom, “Dr. Ly was not only an excellent teacher, he also was outstanding at getting us to do more than learn – he got us to think.”
The Richard Moore Award: Jon Minden
Jon Minden, professor of biological sciences, received The Richard Moore Award for his substantial and sustained contributions to the educational mission of MCS. Since he began teaching students in the Department of Biological Sciences in 1993, Minden has not only taught students the nuts and bolts of biology, but he also taught them what it means to be a biologist. “I can honestly say that the first time I actually felt like a biologist was in [Dr. Minden’s class] How Biological Experiments Work,” says a student. “The way Dr. Minden structured the course and the exams actually forced me to think critically, a valuable skill to practice for any aspiring biologist. Dr. Minden reinvigorated my passion to become a biologist.”
Over his nearly 20 years in the classroom, Minden has taught several courses, created two new courses, and devised a faculty-to-faculty course called Frontiers of Biology. Designed to demystify some of biology’s most newsworthy topics, such as drug design, neurobiology and genomics, the course was hailed by a participant as “one of the most exciting intellectual activities that I have ever seen and/or participated in.”
Minden is best known for co-teaching Cell Biology, a core course for second semester sophomore Biological Sciences majors. This course introduces students to several cellular processes, including membrane function, protein targeting and cell interactions. Students applauded Minden’s ability to “make [us] utilize and apply the learned concepts to realistic problems in the biological research setting.”
Outside of the classroom, Minden has “been a superlative mentor for HHMI students, devising multi-disciplinary projects that embody both technological intrigue and biological significance,” says Professor Aaron Mitchell, director of CMU’s HHMI Undergraduate Research Program. Minden has also “mentored several truly outstanding graduate students,” says Professor Adam Linstedt. “I have always been impressed by the transformation of his students into colleagues that are professional, articulate, critical, and accomplished.”