Erin Dolan, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Georgia Athletic Association Professor for Innovative Science Education at the University of Georgia (UGA), will receive the 2018 Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education. Dolan is being recognized for her dedication as editor-in-chief of ASCB’s education journal, CBE—Life Science Education, and for developing the Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) movement.
“I can attest to the fruits of Erin’s labor myself,” said committee chair Melanie Styers. “At a recent NSF Day in Alabama, faculty members from across the state were talking about CUREs as a result of a workshop Erin led at the University of West Alabama. I should also note that the nominating letters highlighted that not only is Erin a national player, but she also ‘practices what she preaches’ in her own classroom.”
Through her research at UGA, Dolan elucidates factors influencing the social and psychological development of undergraduate researchers and the roles that research mentors play in undergraduate researchers’ learning, development, and educational and career pursuits. Although much research has been done to determine how people learn and factors that cause them remain in (or leave) STEM education, Dolan said that little is known “about how to incentivize and support faculty members at the undergraduate and graduate level in teaching and mentoring in ways that are consistent with this research.”
Dolan’s knowledge of learning research informs her instruction, as evidenced by this anecdote shared by her colleague at UGA Paula Lemons. While sitting in on one of Dolan’s classes, Lemons observed, “The students in my group engaged with the activity, asked each other questions, and clarified their understanding through discussion. At the end of the class period…one of the students in my group said, ‘Wow! Is class over already?’ …How could a teacher do any better job than to engage students so much in learning that students lose track of time?”
Dolan’s interest in the underpinnings of good science education trace back to the University of California, San Francisco, where, while earning her PhD in neuroscience, she volunteered in K–12 schools. She notes, “The teachers we worked with were interested in learning the science in order to help their students learn, rather than just learning it to do well on a test. It was a whole different way of thinking about education for me, and it changed the course of my career.”
Since then, Dolan has strived to understand research experiences as learning environments and to help others make use of evidence-based methods for teaching and mentoring students. From 2014 to 2016, she was founding executive director of the Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Sciences, a teaching innovation initiative at the University of Texas, Austin. She created and directed professional development programming on active learning and research mentoring, including intensive sessions for faculty to develop CUREs. With National Science Foundation support, she founded CUREnet, a network of people and programs integrating research into undergraduate courses.
The ASCB Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education is given each year to an individual who has demonstrated innovative and sustained contributions to science education, with particular emphasis on the broad local, regional, or national impact of the nominee’s activities.
Dolan will formally receive her award and present the Bruce Alberts Award lecture on Monday, December 10, at 11:00 am during the 2018 ASCB|EMBO Meeting in San Diego.
About the Author:
Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.