Carnegie Mellon University
May 31, 2023

Yaron, Mackey Honored with Richard Moore Award

By Heidi Opdyke

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Marketing and Communication, MCS
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Chemistry Professor David Yaron and Mathematics Teaching Professor John Mackey have been honored as co-winners of the Mellon College of Science's 2023 Richard Moore Award.

This award is bestowed upon faculty members in the college who are making substantial and sustained contributions to the educational mission of the college, particularly when those contributions have extended over a substantial portion of their academic career.

They received the Richard Moore Award at the MCS Annual Meeting on May 30 and were recognized at the university's Celebration of Education on April 27.

David Yaron

David Yaron has innovated how and where chemistry is taught. While he helped launch ChemCollective, a digital library of labs, tutorials, simulations and other resources available for information on chemistry concepts in 2000, the use of those tools expanded immensely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Dave is consistently our most innovative and dedicated teacher. He thinks deeply about the practice of teaching and what factors impact student learning," said Bruce Armitage, a professor and head of the Department of Chemistry and co-director for the Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology. "He doesn't just adopt new methods, he creates them, and assessment is central to everything he does. There is no one I admire more than Dave."

Yaron joined Carnegie Mellon in 1992 as a tenure track professor working in theoretical chemistry. Over the years he has taught graduate and undergraduate courses. Among his accolades are a Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award in 2000, an MCS Julius Ashkin Teaching Award and a 2017 Carnegie Mellon Teaching Innovation Award.

"His focus on students' ability to learn through an emphasis on reasoning and critical thinking has earned him high praise from colleagues and students alike," said Gizelle Sherwood, an associate teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he volunteered to teach 99-519/520 Experiential Learning Through Projects. This was taught during the 2020 Summer session. Students were able to gain some research experience remotely despite ongoing COVID restrictions and quarantines. Thirteen students across various departments in the university enrolled in this course. At the end of the summer, two students volunteered to stay to continue working with him. Similarly, in the 2022 summer session, he again taught 99-519/520.

In recent years, Yaron has focused on enhancing the first-year experience for students in the Department of Chemistry. Alongside his peers, he has revolutionized the way courses are taught with newer focus on the application of concepts in research and technologies. A member of the LEAD education committee that redesigned the MCS Core, he remains as part of the oversight team for the initiative.

For graduate students, Yaron was integral in the development of the Master of Science Degree in Data Analytics for Science.

Over the years, Yaron has received over $2.5 million from NSF Division of Undergraduate Education initiatives related to teaching and learning concepts of chemistry using online tools. Locally, Yaron is the director of chemistry at the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center's Learn Lab, which brings together psychologists, educators and technologists to address fundamental questions in learning science. He is the principal author of the introductory chemistry courseware developed for the Opening Learning Initiative (OLI).

Most recently, alongside Norman Bier (CMU, OLI) and Ariel Anbar (Arizona State University), Yaron was awarded $3 million through the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation to address issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion in learning in course material. Of this grant, $1.5 million was allocated to CMU.

Yaron has a national reputation for developing resources for high school and college students. He chaired the Advanced Placement Chemistry exam committee that worked on the redesign of the AP Chemistry tests. He is working on a similar committee dedicated to the high school sophomore curriculum. Through the U.S. Department of Education, Yaron and collaborators received $900,000 to develop high school resources aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and community development material.

"At every cornerstone of education, Dave has had an impact on how we shaped how we think about chemical education and learning," Sherwood said. "He is very passionate about this mission. His resolve has never faltered. As a department we are extremely proud of him and grateful for his continued diligence to both his research work and his educational initiatives."

Yaron received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1983 from Wilkes University and his Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1990. 

John Mackey

There is logic behind Teaching Professor John Mackey's influence on undergraduate mathematics education at Carnegie Mellon University. There is also enthusiasm, hard work and fun.

Since Mackey joined Carnegie Mellon in 2003, there have been dramatic increases in both the number of undergraduate math majors and their quality.

"It is an understatement to say that John played a major role in these developments," said Prasad Tetali, the Alexander M. Knaster Professor and head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences. "It is the opinion of many faculty in the department that John Mackey is the major reason for the tremendous improvements in our undergraduate program."

Mackey joined Carnegie Mellon in 2003. He was promoted to associate teaching professor in 2006, became director of undergraduate studies in 2007 and a teaching professor in 2011. He won MCS' Julius Ashkin Teaching Award in 2007 and Carnegie Mellon's William H. and Frances S. Ryan Award for Meritorious Teaching in 2013.

"John's classroom teaching is legendary," said Bill Hrusa, Professor of Mathematical Sciences. "However, his contributions to the educational mission of MCS go far beyond teaching."

As contributions to the curriculum, Mackey created 21-127 Concepts of Mathematics and its alternative version for intended math majors, 21-128 Mathematical Concepts. Some 800 students from not only MCS but also the College of Engineering, the Tepper School of Business and the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences take these courses annually. Since 2016, Mackey has held a joint appointment in the School of Computer Science and revamped the course 21-127 Concepts of Mathematics to cover topics applicable to computer science and upper-level math.

He also played an instrumental role in creating the course 21-124 Calculus for Biologists and Chemists.

Outside of the classroom, Mackey created the Carnegie Mellon University Math Club in 2004 and served as its advisor until 2015. The student-run club is open to undergraduate and graduate students who love math, regardless if they are math majors or not. The group hosts weekly speakers, a mentoring program and events.

"The Math Club is extremely active and has greatly enriched the CMU experience for our students," Hrsua said. "The club activities make significant contributions toward fulfilling the goals of the MCS Core, and its creation was the single most important development in improving our undergraduate program. It led to an incredible level of comradery and engagement of students."

Mackey served as the Carnegie Mellon coach for the annual William Lowell Putnam Competition, the premier mathematics competition for undergraduate students in North America. That effort was enhanced when Po-Shen Loh joined Carnegie Mellon and together they created the Knaster-McWilliams Scholars program as well as brought the Putnam activities to a peak. Carnegie Mellon took its first first-place finish in the 2016 Putnam Competition and consistently has a high number of students placing among the top competitors.

Mackey also served as an instructor as part of the high school focused U.S. Math Olympiad Program and Canada/USA Math Camp.

Closer to home, as part of an effort dedicated to improving mathematics education in the Pittsburgh Public Schools through enrichment programs for teachers, Mackey served as a co-PIO of the Designing for Equity by Thinking about Mathematics (DEbT-M) project. The partnership effort involved collaborations from Carnegie Mellon, the Pittsburgh Public School System, the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Iowa State University and the Educational Development Center.

A member of the Department of Mathematical Sciences Undergraduate Curriculum Committee since its inception, Mackey has served on many committees at the department, college and university levels. His latest service is as a faculty representative for the Richard King Mellon Hall of Sciences, an ambitious new building project at Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh campus.

Mackey earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1994. Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon, he spent four years teaching at Dartmouth College and three years as a math preceptor at Harvard University.

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