Biosciences Professor is MSUM’s 10th CASE Professor of the Year

Homepage picture, L to R: Professor Brian Wisenden, junior biology major Molly Dziekan, and Professor Cam Goater, University of Lethbridge

Science is a noun in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

In Brian Wisenden’s dictionary, science is an action verb—hands-on inquiry and discovery that inspires wonder, creativity and passion. He embraces the classic teacher-scholar model through faculty-mentored research that begins as early as the freshman year in college and continues through publication in international peer-reviewed journals with undergraduate collaborators.

It’s the reason Wisenden, a Minnesota State University Moorhead biosciences professor, was named the 2013 Minnesota Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching during a November 14 ceremony in Washington, D.C. Wisenden is the tenth professor at MSU Moorhead to be recognized by the Carnegie Foundation.

The U.S. Professors of the Year awards program celebrates outstanding instructors across the country. Sponsored by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, it is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate education.

While Wisenden’s teaching and research credentials are extraordinary, he is quick to acknowledge the MSUM Biosciences Department and its academic culture for producing three Minnesota Professors of the Year in the past eight years.*

“This award signifies not just what I’ve been doing but what we as a department have been doing collectively,” Wisenden said. “To have three professors in one department recognized at this level indicates that not only do we have some productive people on campus, but there’s something special about our Biosciences Department and the culture within our department that allows people to rise to their full potential.”

Wisenden’s credentials are impressive.

Wisenden joined the Biosciences Department in 1998, bringing with him five years of post-doctoral research experience at three universities. To date, Wisenden has mentored 137 students. Sixty-eight of those undergraduates are co-authors on research articles published in international peer-reviewed journals; two are co-authors on a book chapter. Nearly all of those students have presented at regional, national and international meetings.

“Brian recognizes the significant impact undergraduate research can have on a student’s future, and continues to foster this through not only the research itself, but through encouragement to publish, attend conferences and networking,” said Anthony Stumbo, currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and a 2008 biology graduate who conducted research under Wisenden for nearly four years. “By the time I entered graduate school, I had a larger CV than most students leaving their higher level degree.”

Wisenden maintains his extraordinarily productive scholarship with the assistance of undergraduate students. “He does it by encouraging undergraduates that his research is a valuable addition to their education,” said Murray Itzkowitz, professor and chair in the Department of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University. “What Brian is doing now is considered the “best practices” of teaching science to our undergraduates. That is, young undergraduates appreciate and learn science by doing research with research faculty. With that experience, students will continue to appreciate and practice science throughout their lifetime.”

Wisenden has been teaching and researching this way throughout his career.

“I model what it is to be a scientist through a strong sense of wonder and joy of learning that is renewed and sustained with each student,” Wisenden said. “You can’t be a great teacher if you’re not exploring and wondering about new things. It’s a blurred line between what’s teaching and what’s research.”

Wisenden also inspires his colleagues.

“Brian has been instrumental in my success, the department’s success, and most importantly our students’ success,” said Ellen Brisch, MSUM biosciences professor and 2007 CASE Minnesota Professor of the Year. “He has played a crucial role in creating a vibrant research community throughout our department with threads that extend across all our undergraduate programs.”

Wisenden’s 2008 grant from the National Science Foundation (co-authored with Linda Fuselier and Michelle Malott) helped infuse research throughout the undergraduate curriculum starting with the introductory biology course. “The purpose of the grant was to upgrade the existing curriculum into a format that is completely research driven,” Wisenden said.

Wisenden’s stellar research record is on par with faculty at many major research institutions. “His focus on assisting others to be successful, training a new generation of scientists and inspiring students to dig into research in and out of class sets him apart from all others,” Brisch said.

Wisenden has delivered 212 presentations, including 13 invited and keynote lectures to regional, national and international audiences, and has published 83 publications.

“Dr. Wisenden could readily be employed at any institution in the world, but he chooses to work at a primarily undergraduate institution that highly values undergraduate research and hands-on learning in the classroom,” said Michelle Malott, dean of MSUM’s College of Science, Health and the Environment.

“I’m not taking away from the fact that I’ve worked very hard, but I’m among a group of hard-working people that has enjoyed significant administration support,” Wisenden said. “The end result of elevating the scientific method as a central theme in our curriculum is that students not only gain knowledge (noun), they learn how to gain knowledge (verb). And with those skills they are ready for whatever the future may have in store for them.”

MSU Moorhead Carnegie Professors

* MSU Moorhead professors have been recognized with more Carnegie Professors of the Year designations than any college or university, public or private, in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, or Wisconsin. MSUM’s Minnesota Professors of the Year (in bold are current MSUM professors): Russ Colson, (also the Outstanding U.S. Master’s Universities and Colleges Professor) 2010, anthropology and Earth science; Martin Grindeland, 2008, mass communications; Ellen Brisch, 2007, biosciences; Mark Wallert, 2005, biosciences; Jim Bartruff, 2001, theatre arts; Andrew Conteh, 1999, political science; David Mason, 1994, English; Evelyn C. Lynch, 1992, education; and Delmar J. Hansen (deceased), 1987, theatre arts.

U.S. Professors of the Year Award Program

The U.S. Professors of the Year Award Program was created in 1981 to increase awareness of the importance of undergraduate instruction at all types of higher education institutions. The program recognizes faculty members for their achievement as undergraduate professors. The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) began the Professors of the Year program with the Carnegie Foundation hosting the final round of judging. The Carnegie Foundation sponsors the cash award given to U.S. national winners.

The awards recognize professors for their influence on teaching and commitment to undergraduate students. In addition to four national winners, this year a state Professor of the Year was recognized in 36 states from among a pool of more than 350 top professors in the country. Judges selected national and state winners based on four criteria: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former students.

National and state winners of the 2013 U.S. Professors of the Year awards will be honored today at a luncheon and awards ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

Council for Advancement and Support of Education

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is one of the largest international associations of education institutions, serving more than 3,600 universities, colleges, and independent elementary and secondary schools in 76 countries. CASE is the leading resource for professional development, information and standards in the fields of educational fundraising, communications and marketing, and alumni relations.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is an independent policy and research center that supports needed transformations in American education through tighter connections between teaching practice, evidence of student learning, the communication and use of this evidence, and structured opportunities to build knowledge.