The Ohio Wesleyan University family gathered Tuesday to recognize zoology professor Jed Burtt, recently named the 2011 Ohio Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
And it truly was a family event. Burtt, who joined the OWU faculty in 1977, thanked many faculty, staff, administrators, and students by name as he spoke to the crowd gathered in the Schimmel/Conrades Science Center Atrium. Read his complete remarks.
“If I may paraphrase a politician, it takes a community to nurture a professor,” Burtt told well-wishers. “Indeed my career has been guided by this community.”
His love of teaching – a key component of his Ohio Professor of the Year honor – was undeniable as he spoke of his joy in mentoring Ohio Wesleyan students for nearly 35 years.
“[Y]ou, the students, are the essential element of my life,” Burtt said. “Each year I look forward to the new ideas, new perspectives, and, yes, new challenges you bring to campus. What fun to work with people who are so eager, so optimistic, so enthusiastic to explore life’s possibilities. … I have been privileged to collaborate with and teach some remarkable students, but I hope that I have also helped some struggling students find themselves and realize their passion even if it is outside science. …
“Thank you to my colleagues and all the students for nurturing me,” he concluded. “I appreciate that you have let me be a part of your lives. You have been my life. Thank you for a wonderful life.”
Danielle Hamill, associate professor of zoology and department chair, also spoke during the ceremony, congratulating Burtt on his honor, which recognizes his impact on undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community, and profession; and support from colleagues and former students.
After reflecting on Burtt’s substantial qualifications in each of the categories, Hamill concluded: “Jed is the epitome of this award.”
She also read comments from 2009 OWU alumnus Max Schroeder, now a graduate student in microbiology and molecular genetics at Emory University in Atlanta, and from 2011 alumnus Sean Williams, now a graduate student in neotropical avian biology at Michigan State University.
Schroeder noted the pride he felt when, as an OWU student, Burtt “frequently called me his colleague and introduced me as such” at national ornithological meetings and other events. “Jed became more than just my mentor, but a great friend. … Jed has played a major part in helping me develop into an independent thinker and pursue my passions.”
And Williams praised Burtt for sharing his love of science with and inspiring so many students.
“The first word I would use to describe the classroom teaching style of Dr. Burtt is enthusiasm,” Williams stated. “He is unafraid to flap his arms, jump up and down, and imitate birdcalls in the classroom. … The enthusiasm spreads to students, which greatly enhances their willingness to learn. The joviality that emanates regularly attracts students to engage in discussion in his office, which satisfies his fierce hunger for interaction with students. His infectious spirit inspires multiple students per year to become birdwatchers, scientists, teachers, or all three.”
President Rock Jones also honored Burtt during the reception, telling the crowd about participating in a Saturday research excursion with Burtt and freshmen honors students shortly after arriving on campus.
Jones said he was amazed to see current seniors leading the day of netting birds, collecting feather samples, releasing the unharmed birds, and then preparing information for an extensive database that Burtt keeps and shares with ornithologists worldwide. The excursion also included both breakfast and lunch at Burtt’s home, prepared by the professor himself.
“I’ve been an admirer of Jed from that time,” Jones said, noting that “chef” Burtt also was quietly wearing the hats of professor and mentor – roles he had been filling for the seniors since they arrived on campus and roles that he would fill for the new freshmen for the next four years and beyond.
“Jed has touched this institution at every level,” Jones concluded. “We are deeply honored to have Jed here.”
And generations of OWU family members agree. Congratulations, Jed, on your well-deserved 2011 Ohio Professor of the Year honor.