By Ali Valdrighi
Phi Beta Kappa member, Patricia Kelley was one of four recognized in November as a National U.S. Professor of the Year. Sponsored by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Phi Beta Kappa, the U.S. Professor of the Year is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate education. After nominations for the award are made, a group of deans, professors, education reporters and government/foundations representatives is chosen to select one hundred of the nominations. Of these one hundred, twenty four are named finalist by a second panel. Finally a third panel is created to select winners at the national and state level.
A geology professor at the University of North Caroline Wilmington (UNCW), Kelley is passionate about hands-on-experience in the classroom. Kelley said in her acceptance speech that when she started teaching in 1979, lecturing was the primary teaching style used by professors. However, feeling this approach was too stagnant, she began working to facilitate in-class discussion and original research projects. Specifically, in her invertebrate Paleontology laboratory, students were asked to write a paper and present their results at the Geological Society of America. “The approach promotes student learning objectives and allows students to experience research from conception to dissemination. And the students seem to like it,” Kelley said.
Before becoming a professor at UNCW, Kelley earned both a master’s and Ph.D from Harvard University. When not researching, Kelley is involved in a number of interesting research projects. Currently, her research focuses on the evolution and paleoecology of Coastal Plain mollusks. Specifically, she is examining tempo and mode of evolution, role of biological factors like predation in evolution, predator-prey co-evolution, mass extinction, and recovery of mollusk faunas.
On the UNCW News page, Kelley commented on what an honor it is to receive this award: “The world of higher education has changed since I began teaching, but since my first day in the classroom, I’ve always worked to inspire my students to think critically and encourage their personal and professional growth.” Kelley has also received the Association Geoscientists Outstanding Educator Award, UNCW’s Chancellors Teaching Excellence Award, Distinguish Teaching Professorship Award, and Distinguish Faculty Scholar Award. In 2006, she was recognized as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Clearly Kelley has found ways to inspire the world of geology and science, and we look forward to her future contributions.
Ali Valdrighi is a senior at Pomona College majoring in neuroscience. Pomona College is home to the Gamma of California Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.