Jo Handelsman receives Carski Foundation undergrad teaching award

Jo Handelsman, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, is honored with the Carski Foundation Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award. This award, which has been supported by the Carski Foundation since 1968, honors an educator for outstanding teaching of microbiology to undergraduate students.

Handelsman earned her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she joined the faculty in 1985. She has taught over 1,100 undergraduates and even more educators. “She represents the quintessential scientist-educator and dedicated mentor,” according to Thomas R. Cech, President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, and a supporter of Handelsman’s nomination. “In all of Dr. Handelsman’s efforts, she passionately seeks to improve the national landscape and quality of undergraduate science education, and she actively pursues ways to make careers in science accessible to all people.”

In 2002, Handelsman was named a HHMI Professor for her scientific teaching project which brought together the teaching rigor, experimentation spirit, and creativity of scientific research. Her project was focused on changing the educational experiences of undergraduates in the classroom. With the support of HHMI, she founded the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching (WPST) to enhance undergraduate biology education by training a new generation of scientific teachers. One of the WPST’s initiatives is the “Teaching Fellows Program,” a year-long program designed to prepare postdoctoral fellows and graduate students with knowledge of scientific teaching and how to translate it directly into the classroom. Handelsman also created the “Summer Symbiosis Program,” a ten-week research experience for undergraduates who are paired with WPST Mentoring Program graduate and postdoctoral students.

Under her leadership, the HHMI-National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Summer Institute, which is a collaboration between the WPST, HHMI, and NAS, was developed to provide a place to learn about biology instruction in the context of the research university and applications for the undergraduate classroom. Faculty are chosen annually through a competitive process to participate in this five-day workshop. During the workshop, a few of the things that faculty engage in are development of instructional materials for introductory biology classes; teaching and learning through interactive presentations; and design and adaption of instructional materials that integrate themes of active learning. Since its inception in 2003, 205 faculty have participated; collectively, they teach ~90,000 undergraduates. “That is a staggering number, which best represents the profound effect that Handelsman is having on undergraduate education across the nation,” wrote Jorge C. Escalante-Semerena, Handelsman’s nominator and an American Academy of Microbiology Fellow.

Handelsman’s commitment to undergraduate education has been rewarded with numerous awards, including the UW-Madison’s Chancellor’s University Teaching Award and the Jung Excellence in Teaching Award. Handelsman, a Fellow of the American Academy of Micorbiology, was also honored by the NAS in 2004 when she was named the National Academies Education Mentor in the Life Sciences.