Faculty Awards Celebrating Excellence ceremony honors three from COSAM

Auburn University held the seventh annual Faculty Awards Celebrating Excellence ceremony at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center. Among those receiving awards were COSAM’s Lawrence Wit, associate dean emeritus; Bob Boyd, professor of biological sciences; and Gary Gruenhage, professor of mathematics and statistics.

Lawrence WitLawrence Wit was the recipient of the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching. Wit began his academic career at Auburn in 1976 when he was hired as an assistant professor of zoology and entomology in the College of Agriculture. He joined the College of Sciences and Mathematics in 1990 as interim associate dean for academic affairs, and in 1992 was named associate dean. For 22 years, his responsibilities included coordinating COSAM’s academic programs, teaching classes, assisting with student organizations, and working closely with students and advisors. Wit was also instrumental in creating the COSAM Leaders, an exemplary group of students who serve the college as its official ambassadors. Most well-known for his Mammalian Physiology class, his teaching methods and class content have brought critical acclaim to Auburn’s biomedical sciences students and the university’s premedical program. He said it was while attending graduate school in 1967 that he discovered the delight of teaching college students. He was awarded a graduate teaching assistantship and began teaching freshman biology labs. He said he was hooked and never regretted his choice of profession.

“As a teacher, there are not many obvious tangible edifices to my life’s work. Yet, periodically, I hear from former students who indicate that they still remember Mammalian Physiology,” Wit said. “They tell me how the content of the course continues to help them in their professions. More importantly, though, they tell me that the course helped them learn about themselves, equipping them to think synthetically and critically. There could not be a higher compliment.”

Bob BoydBob Boyd was the recipient of the Alumni Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award. Boyd came to Auburn in 1988 and has taught at all levels, from freshman courses in biology to graduate courses in conservation biology and plant-animal interactions. His research interests include the management of rare and endangered plants, as well as the ecology and evolution of metal hyperaccumulator plants. In 2001, an insect species was named for him – Melanotrichus boydi, or “Boyd’s Black-Haired Bug.”The discovery came from the master’s thesis work of one of his graduate students. Boyd was involved in the creation of the campus student group, the Society for Conservation Biology, which provides support for majors that involve conservation. He also serves as faculty advisor for the group. His teaching and mentoring efforts have been recognized through the Alumni Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award, COSAM Dean’s Award for Outstanding Teaching, COSAM Outstanding Faculty Advising Award, and an Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award. Boyd was also named Learning Community Coordinator of the Year in 2012. He said he considers his parents, who were both teachers, his most valuable role models.

“Being a part of the education of bright and energetic young people is very satisfying,” Boyd said. “Helping them to achieve their goals while at the university is wonderful, but coming across them later in their careers and finding that they still remember me and the courses that I teach is extremely gratifying. These experiences help me see that I can make a difference in students’ lives.”

Gary GruenhageGary Gruenhage was the recipient of the Distinguished Graduate Faculty Lectureship. At Auburn for 38 years, his research area is set-theoretic topology, a melding of set theory and general topology. The two fields are fundamental mathematical disciplines with common historical roots and serve as essential tools in many areas of mathematics. Gruenhage has published more than 100 articles in research journals and as book chapters, and his work is commonly cited by other leading researchers. He is a frequent invited speaker at major national and international conferences in his field, and his work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. Gruenhage says his proudest moment was the day he returned to work at Auburn after sustaining a spinal cord injury which left him paralyzed from the chest down in April 2006. His doctor was skeptical and suggested that he be “realistic,” but Gruenhage’s goal was to be home in time for fall semester. He finished rehabilitation and returned home on Aug. 10, 2006, and returned to Auburn on Aug. 15, 2006, the first day of the semester.

“I feel very grateful, honored, and humbled by the extremely strong support that I’ve had both from colleagues here at Auburn and fellow researchers around the world ... What is most important to me about the award is to know that the work I have done in mathematics over the last 38 years at Auburn is held in high regard by my mathematical friends and colleagues,” said Gruenhage.