Sara Patterson receives UW-Madison Distinguished Teaching Award

Sara E. Patterson, assistant professor of horticulture, is the 2007 recipient of the Emil H. Steiger Award, one of five distinguished teaching awards presented by the UW-Madison.

“One night I dreamed that my lecture was so boring that I fell asleep while writing on the chalkboard,” Patterson recalls. “The good news was that when I dreamed I woke up the entire class was asleep, so no one knew!”

But in waking life Patterson has nothing to fear in that regard; her students consistently report that her lectures are far removed from the “I-talk-you-listen” variety. For instance, a session on genetic variety brought homemade granola bars made of orange and purple carrots to class. “While I enjoyed eating Sara’s delicious treats, I also began thinking about the reasons for and causes and effects of genetic variation,” says Susie Drahos, an undergraduate horticulture major. Later, her class visited the Eagle Heights community garden and harvested vegetables, extracted seeds and planted them. Many of Patterson’s students apply the knowledge they learn from her by volunteering at Allen Centennial Gardens and in other community gardens across the region.

“My philosophy of teaching primarily revolves around the belief that I am sharing with others how to learn, to access data and retrieve it later in life,” she says. “I have always loved to learn about new things. If I can share a fraction of that enthusiasm with students, whether undergraduates, graduates, K-12 students and teacher, community gardeners or the elderly, then I feel that much of my job as an educator is done.”