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Beth Sorensen
Office of Communications


The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has selected Robert Kaplan, Reed College professor of biology, as a 1996-97 U.S. professor of the year. He is the first winner from the Pacific Northwest in the history of the national awards program.

The Carnegie Foundation honors each year four distinguished college and university professors who exemplify excellence in teaching. Kaplan, who was named outstanding baccalaureate college professor of 1996-97, was selected from nearly 600 faculty members nominated by colleges and universities throughout the country.

Kaplan received a $5,000 cash prize at a reception on October 10 in Washington, D.C. During his D.C. visit, he taught a "hands-on" biology class to students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School, an inner-city school near the Capitol. During the course of the year, Kaplan will deliver a lecture for the Smithsonian Institution Lecture Series, among other venues.

"This is a tremendous honor for Bob and for Reed," said Reed president Steven Koblik. "It is a reflection of the entire faculty's dedication to undergraduate teaching and their extraordinary commitment to students."

A dedicated teacher-scholar, Kaplan uses an imaginative and enthusiastic style to motivate students in the investigation of population biology, ecology, and evolution within a demanding liberal-arts environment. He brings the same energy to his material whether it's a sophomore-level course he helped develop to teach beginning students about the process of science or an independent research project on the conservation biology of a threatened salamander species with one of his senior thesis advisees.

He works side-by-side with undergraduates doing rigorous research and has successfully embedded serious field work into the curriculum.

"I discovered that the Asian fire-bellied toad, which is found in South Korea, lives for very long periods of time and breeds repeatedly making them ideal for studies that connect genetics, developmental biology, and ecology. We're addressing big issues related to the world of the evolution of parental care, maternal effects, and maternal-offspring relationships."

In order to fully study the complex relationships between an organism and its environment, he and his students also observe and collect data on frog embryos and larvae in the remote mountain ranges of South Korea (locals call him kaeguri paksa, the "frog doctor") and salamander populations in Oregon's rugged Columbia River Gorge. His research on the developmental biology and ecology of toads, frogs, and salamanders has been published in numerous scholarly journals, often in collaboration with Reed students.

An active member of his broader communities as well, he chaired the college's Honor Council. In addition, supported with funds for outreach from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he is working with public-school teachers to design a hands-on biology curriculum for elementary and middle-school students.

"Dr. Kaplan sees his students as future scholars, worthy of his time, dedication, and guidance," says former student Duncan Parks. "He changed me from an enthusiastic but naive student to a true researcher, with the professional skills required to complete an original research project."

In her letter of support for Kaplan's nomination, Maryanne McClellan, his colleague in the biology department, wrote that Kaplan "devotes an extraordinary amount of his non-classroom time in service to the college. . . . One notable example was his campus-wide role as steward of the Honor Council and indeed the honor principle itself. When cynicism about relevance of the honor principle to life at Reed was growing, Bob was the single individual willing to take on the arduous duty of educating the entire community about the historical roots and contemporary application of an honor principle on our campus."

The other 1996-97 U.S. professors of the year are Sally Foster Wallace, professor of English at Parkland College, Illinois, outstanding community colleges professor; Anne L. Hudson, professor of mathematics at Armstrong Atlantic State University, Georgia, outstanding master's universities and colleges professor; and Dean A. Zollman, professor of physics at Kansas State University, outstanding research and doctoral universities professor. Past winners of this prestigious award have come from institutions as diverse as Williams College, Denison University, Cornell University, Rice University, and Hope College. Professors are evaluated in four areas: effect on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching; service to undergraduate students, their institution, their community, and their profession; and support from colleagues and former students.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a policy center in Princeton, New Jersey, is devoted to strengthening America's schools and colleges. Administration of the awards program is supported by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), which established the program in 1981.