Two UND faculty tapped for special national scholar honors

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News Article

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College of Arts & Sciences


Association of American Colleges & Universities award promotes scientific thinking

The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently selected two University of North Dakota faculty members as STIRS Scholars.

It's a signal honor bestowed on just 12 faculty nationwide. UND is the lone school in the inaugural year of the program with two STIRS (Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills) Scholars.

Tami Carmichael, associate professor and director of Humanities and Integrated Studies and coordinator of the American College of Norway Programs; and Ryan Zerr, professor of mathematics—both in the UND College of Arts & Sciences —were selected for the 2013-2014 academic year. As STIRS Scholars, Carmichael and Zerr will work on developing scientific thinking and integrative reasoning at UND and join national discussions about this. They also will be honored in AAC&U publicity.

STIRS Scholars will develop case studies, provide faculty perspectives on STIRS strategies to increase attention to undergraduate evidence-based reasoning skills, form a leadership cohort within an emerging community of practice focused on improving evidence-based reasoning and decision making as outcomes of liberal education, and help select and mentor a second group of STIRS Scholars in early 2015.

In a release about the award, the AAC&U says the primary goal of its STIRS Initiative is to improve the capacity of undergraduate students to use evidence to solve problems and make decisions. Such capacities are foundational to a liberal arts education and are critical for all students in all areas of study if they are to become engaged and productive citizens.

"This is wonderful news for UND," said T homas DiLorenzo, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "It underscores once again that UND is blessed with gifted, dedicated faculty who aim to constantly improve the student experience here."

"The humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences are essential components to all students' education at UND, regardless of their major," said Debbie Storrs, dean of the UND College of Arts & Sciences. "The fact that two of our dynamic faculty, one from the humanities and one from math, have been selected to shape the dialogue on a national scale reflects the quality of our faculty and the importance of our College."

For Carmichael, the STIRS Scholar award is an opportunity to focus on one of UND's key strategic goals: enrich teaching and learning at the University, especially with respect to scientific thinking and reasoning skills.

"We will work in teams over the next year to create and publish a series of case studies that can be used in college classrooms to engage students in processing information about important issues in order to formulate responses and create potential recommendations about those issues," Carmichael said.

"This kind of learning does several things," Carmichael said. "It gives students experiences in evidence-based thinking and it allows them to tackle real-world issues that are often complex, interdisciplinary and controversial."

Carmichael noted that the application process for the STIRS Scholar award was national and rigorous, and each applicant had to develop and submit a case study for consideration.

Carmichael's proposed case study was on the impact of Tar Sands Pipelines on people, communities and environments.

"It's a topic that is imminently relevant and draws on my 13 years' experience teaching in UND's highly successful Integrated Studies Program, which has been utilizing similar pedagogies and practices for over 25 years," Carmichael said.

"This opportunity was brought to my attention by Anne Kelsch of UND¹s Office of Instructional Development and Joan Hawthorne in the Vice President for Academic Affairs Office," Carmichael said.

"Their investments in innovating teaching and learning practices have helped put UND at the forefront of innovative educational practices nationally," Carmichael said. "The fact that two were chosen from UND indicates that we are doing things right here in regards to providing innovative learning experiences for our students."

As members of the very first cohort of STIRS Scholars, "we will have the opportunity to mentor next year's group," Carmichael said. "Being able to participate in a national project that promotes quality undergraduate education is a great honor, and I believe that the work of the STIRS Scholars will have an important impact on student learning and on faculty approaches to teaching. That is something I am thrilled to be part of."

For Zerr, the road to STIRS Scholar status came through Thomas Steen, professor of Kinesiology & Public Health Education and director of the University's Office of Essential Studies. Zerr's project involves mathematical thinking in a historical context.

"Professors Carmichael and Zerr will bring leadership, interdisciplinary knowledge, and a critical lens to prepare students to address what some refer to as 'wicked' problems—complicated and multi-dimensional challenges the world is facing," Storrs said. "While it's not surprising that two of our talented and dedicated faculty were selected to participate as STIRS scholars, it is a great honor. I'm proud of them."