Professor Schul honored for innovative teaching

Division of Biological Sciences congratulates Professor Johannes Schul on being selected for the President’s Award for Innovative Teaching.

The University of Missouri System award, which includes a $4000 prize, recognizes faculty who are outstanding teachers and who employ novel and innovative teaching methods to achieve success in student learning.

Professor Johannes Schul has been instrumental in overhauling undergraduate curriculum to focus on two fundamental challenges facing the biological sciences: 1) teaching students to think integratively across biological levels and 2) recruiting and retaining students from diverse backgrounds. He has achieved this by restructuring courses around big stories that emphasize the connections between molecules, evolution and ecology, as well as taking additional innovative steps to foster inclusiveness in the classroom. Diversity in science is an important part of his courses, which include open and active discussion of how science is a social endeavor that is improved by inclusion of people from all backgrounds and cultures.

Nadum Member-Meneh, who took introductory biology with Dr. Schul, wrote in a letter that “he promoted knowing your neighbor and working together, not just in the classroom but outside the classroom as well. No one has gotten where they are in life without help, but you have to be able to ask for it. This means getting comfortable with communicating with individuals who don’t speak or look like you. That was a sentiment he preached, and it really stuck with me.”

Dr. Schul has also been an agent of culture change beyond the classroom, taking what he has learned from his own courses to help other faculty  adopt similar practices in their own classrooms. He has done this through campus presentations and workshops as well as by establishing faculty learning communities focused on inclusive excellence. His leadership and advocacy helped to secure several grants in support of campus wide curricular reform efforts, including a highly competitive $1 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant.

“Dr. Schul stimulates other science faculty to engage in course redesign in part because he approaches his teaching in a scientific way – starting with specific learning goals and then assessing the outcomes of the course. He is familiar with the science education literature and uses evidence-based practices whose efficacy has been tested,” said Alan Whittington, Chair and Endowed Professor of Geological Sciences. “Ideally all science faculty would adopt these approaches, and the new STEM faculty learning communities should mark a significant step forward not only in the set of courses that will undergo redesign, but also in galvanizing a group of faculty from disparate disciplines and geographic locations across campus that together can achieve a critical mass and maintain a culture of improving STEM education reform for many years to come.”

Clearly, Dr. Schul exemplifies a comprehensive idea of inclusive excellence that goes beyond being excellent at including people, and extends to teaching excellently and doing excellent work in a way that facilitates inclusion.

The UM System President’s Awards are presented annually to faculty members across the four campuses of the UM System who have made exceptional contributions in advancing the mission of the university.