Nick Balster earns UW-Madison Distinguished Teaching Award

Nick Balster, associate professor of soil science, is one of 10 professors on campus to receive UW-Madison Distinguished Teaching Awards. Balster will receive the Chancellor’s Award at a March 28 ceremony and reception hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. Register to attend here.

Balster said that, of all his roles, he holds his role as a teacher as most important.

“My philosophy focuses on constructing a learning environment that melds teaching and learning in an authentic form such that students and I are led by the wonderfully complex pursuit of understanding,” said Balster.

“I believe a teacher must provide a clear level of expectation within a learner-centered environment that provides every student with some measure of achievement. Teaching should be conducted in a manner where no one is belittled for their lack of understanding,” he added.

Balster joined the soil science faculty as an assistant professor in 2003, has been an associate professor since 2010 and chairs the new environmental science major.

“He has made extraordinary contributions to the teaching mission of our institution at nearly every level imaginable,” said William Bland, soil science chair.

Bland noted that Balster took a low-profile course, “Soils: Ecosystem and Resource,” and made it a premier contribution to environmental science learning. He said Balster’s students have had their view of the natural world transformed by the course.

Balster is credited with injecting vibrancy and new thinking into undergraduate courses. He has also worked to bring to campus undergraduate majors addressing the environment, resulting in both an environmental studies major, jointly offered by the Nelson Institute and the College of Letters and Science, and an environmental sciences major jointly offered by the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Letters and Science.

Balster served as co-chair of the UW Teaching Academy in 2010-11 and led the Teaching Academy Summer Institute in 2009.

John Swain, a former student of Balster’s and now an earth science teacher, said he found himself taking two sets of notes in Balster’s classes, one for the content and one set of mental notes on Balster’s approach to his craft as an educator.

“Dr. Balster has related to me that his favorite part of his job is watching the lights go on as a student discovers and learns,” Swain said.

Clayton Thomas, another of Balster’s students, describes him as “a shining example of what faculty advising and undergraduate instruction should look like.”