U-M’s Brian Coppola wins national teaching award

January 13, 2012
  • umichnews@umich.edu

Brian P. Coppola, Ph.D., Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of ChemistryBrian P. Coppola, Ph.D., Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of ChemistryANN ARBOR—Baylor University has named University of Michigan chemistry professor Brian Coppola as the 2012 recipient of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, the only national teaching award – with the single largest monetary reward of $250,000 – presented by a college or university to an individual for exceptional teaching.

“Baylor University is very pleased to honor Dr. Brian Coppola of the University of Michigan with Baylor’s 2012 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching,” said Elizabeth Davis, executive vice president and provost at Baylor. “Dr. Coppola is an internationally known teacher/scholar, who combines an impressive academic record with a stellar reputation for the extraordinary impact he has had on undergraduate students and the educational enterprise.

“For the duration of our storied 166-year history, Baylor University has dedicated itself to the development and shaping of our students through the value we place on extraordinary classroom teaching. Our outstanding faculty continue that tradition to this day by equipping our students to reach the highest levels of academic and educational achievement,” Davis said. “The Cherry Award allows us to extend that experience by bringing to our campus some of the world’s greatest teachers, such as Dr. Coppola. We congratulate our 2012 Cherry Award recipient and we look forward to welcoming him to Baylor University.”

Coppola, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry, said he is deeply honored to be named as the recipient of the 2012 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching.

“This is a special and wholly unique recognition that highlights the basic foundation of two of civilization’s most important activities, namely, teaching and learning,” Coppola said. “At the heart of it all, excellence in teaching means that professors are inspiring, educating, and elevating the next generation to help advance our understanding of the world, and to help improve the human condition.”

The Cherry Award program at Baylor is designed to honor great teachers, stimulate discussion in the academy about the value of teaching and encourage departments and institutions to value their own great teachers. Along with a record of distinguished scholarship, individuals nominated for the Cherry Award have a proven record as an extraordinary teacher with a positive, inspiring and long-lasting effect on students.

Coppola was named a finalist for the Cherry Award in April 2011, along with fellow distinguished teacher/scholars Heather Macdonald, Chancellor Professor of Geology at the College of William & Mary, and Allen J. Matusow, W.G. Twyman Professor of History at Rice University. As finalists, each professor received $15,000, while their home departments also received $10,000 for the development of teaching skills.

Coppola visited the Baylor campus in November 2011 to present his Cherry finalist lecture on “The Liberal Art of Chemistry: Stories about Human Nature.” As the 2012 Cherry Award recipient, Coppola will receive the $250,000 award and an additional $25,000 for his home department at the University of Michigan. He is expected to teach in residence at Baylor during spring 2013 semester.

“The Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching committee was very pleased with the strength of the nomination pool for the 2012 award. Each of the three finalists had successful campus visits during the fall semester where they were able to present a public lecture and guest lecture in two undergraduate classes offered by their host departments,” said Michael W. Thompson., chair of the Robert Foster Cherry Award Committee and professor and graduate director in the department of electrical and computer engineering in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“Dr. Brian Coppola has a sterling record of recognized teaching accomplishments and awards. The Cherry committee was particularly impressed with his innovative Structured Study Group (SSG) program, which uses the notion of guided-inquiry learning for teaching both content and critical thinking skills in organic chemistry,” Thompson said.

Patrick Farmer, professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, said he and his colleagues look forward to Coppola’s presence next spring among his department’s faculty and undergraduates.

“When Dr. Coppola visited with us in November, we found him to be a very engaging and informed lecturer, who brought personal and cultural insight to his lectures. We believe our students will benefit greatly from him in the classroom as he teaches undergraduate courses in organic chemistry,” Farmer said.

A significant part of Coppola’s academic career has focused on teacher development, and the 2012 Cherry Award recipient plans to begin a teaching group at Baylor, Farmer said.

“Through the Cherry program, Baylor University shines a bright, international light on the incomparable value that interpersonal connections have in the learning process – not only in the original classroom setting – but in creating a lifelong relationship and bond between teachers and their students,” Coppola said. “I look forward to joining and collaborating with diverse members of the Baylor University community as a part of this honor.”

The Cherry Award was created by Robert Foster Cherry, who earned his A.B. from Baylor in 1929. He enrolled in the Baylor Law School in 1932 and passed the Texas State Bar Examination the following year. With a deep appreciation for how his life had been changed by significant teachers, he made an exceptional estate bequest to establish the Cherry Award program to recognize excellent teachers and bring them in contact with Baylor students. The inaugural Robert Foster Cherry Award was presented in 1991 and is now awarded biennially.

Coppola recently completed 10 years as the department’s associate chair and also serves as associate director for the University of Michigan-Peking University Joint Institute, in Beijing, China.

A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Coppola has been honored numerous times for teaching, including his selection in 2009 as the CASE/Carnegie U.S. Professor of the Year (for doctoral institutions). Coppola was among the first group of Carnegie Scholars affiliated with The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s CASTL program (Carnegie Academy on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning).

Coppola co-founded and was the first co-director of the IDEA Institute (Instructional Development and Educational Assessment), a collaboration between Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the School of Education. Students have the opportunity to collaborate on teaching projects with the faculty members in the same way that they pursue their research projects. IDEA also targets precollege teaching and learning with the same challenge: how can teachers bring their own ideas forward by collaborating with university students and faculty members.