UNK Department of Biology wins university-wide teaching award

March 25, 2014

The Department of Biology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney has been selected to receive the University-wide Departmental Teaching Award (UDTA) from the University of Nebraska, NU President James B. Milliken announced today.

“From the time I first joined the University of Nebraska, I have been aware of the excellent reputation of the UNK Department of Biology,” Milliken said. “It is widely recognized as a leading department on campus that does a terrific job of providing high-quality undergraduate education to students who often go on to graduate or medical school and successful careers. When it comes to distance education, the department has excelled, creating a master’s program in biology that has expanded access and met a critical need for students. The biology faculty are highly regarded by their colleagues, innovative and popular with students. Most important, they are great at what they do. I congratulate the UNK Department of Biology on this well-deserved achievement.”

The UDTA originated in 1993 and is designed to recognize a department or unit within the University of Nebraska that has made unique and significant contributions to the university’s teaching efforts. The honored department is awarded $25,000 to be used in a manner the department sees fit, such as for travel to a conference, instructional equipment or improvements to a classroom or student resource.

UNK’s Department of Biology is home to more than 20 faculty, a half-dozen graduate teaching assistants and nearly 700 undergraduate and graduate majors. Excellence in teaching is paramount for the department’s faculty members. For example:

  • It is common for faculty members to make extra efforts to ensure their students’ educational needs are met. Faculty perform guest lectures or assist in laboratories outside their assigned teaching duties when their expertise is needed, and they regularly work extra and nontraditional hours so they can be accessible to students.
  • The department actively explores new ways to leverage technology to better serve students and rewards its faculty for doing so. Faculty receive monetary incentives for teaching online graduate courses and for mentoring online graduate students. An online master’s program in biology is well-regarded and reaches students in Nebraska and beyond. Additionally, several faculty are leading efforts to transition to “iPad classrooms” – an approach that is both student-centered and environmentally friendly.
  • The department is grounded in the belief that biology is “doing,” not seeing. In that respect, faculty incorporate hands-on learning into their coursework, such as taking students on a weekend fieldtrip to collect and identify fish or having students perform throat cultures and inspect the microbes.
  • Many faculty have written and used their own laboratory manuals versus using mass-produced commercial manuals so that their lab activities are specific to their desired content. Faculty-produced manuals also result in cost savings for students.
  • Faculty are actively engaged in teaching non-biology majors and in some cases create new courses – like a “Science of Fear” course and an “Illustrating Science” course – that reflect their personal interests and that are open to students of any major.
  • The department is active in service and outreach activities and faculty are committed to enhancing the understanding of biology in children, teenagers and adults throughout the community. Faculty participate in science events for children, lend their expertise to local high school science teachers, and give presentations on scientific topics that are open to the public.

The department will be honored at a luncheon in Kearney next month.

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska