Loeb, Stearns receive Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Robert E. Loeb, associate professor of biology and forestry at Penn State DuBois, and Dan T. Stearns, J. Franklin Styer Professor of horticulture botany in the College of Agricultural Sciences, are the recipients of the 2015 Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Science moves at a swift pace — and so does Loeb. Before the National Science Foundation implemented changes, Loeb had already reformed his biology classes to include research steps for freshmen students. His changes were based on his philosophy that students need to “learn by doing.”

In his Biology 110: Basic Concepts and Biodiversity class, he wrote a scientific research process series of laboratory exercises to create a true research experience for his students. The exercise was followed with a completed research report. Loeb mirrored this exercise and assigned the same task in his other biology and geology courses.

Loeb also found some of the entry-level labs at his campus to be inadequate. With no resources available for labs on research, DNA, genetics and systematics, he developed online labs based on his experiences with simulations and research software.

“I strongly believe students must assess their own learning through personal reflection on how well they have achieved the course outcomes."

— Robert Loeb, Milton S.
Eisenhower Award for
Distinguished Teaching recipient

Loeb learns from his students. He’s developed assessments, taken the first and last weeks of class, for students to provide feedback. He then uses their feedback, as well as SRTE results, to shape his classes to better serve future students.

“I strongly believe students must assess their own learning through personal reflection on how well they have achieved the course outcomes,” Loeb said.

“It’s clear Loeb isn’t your ordinary science professor,” said one nominator. “His passion for teaching is undeniable and his eagerness to learn is contagious. He stays away from the long, grueling lectures common in many science courses, instead leading meaningful and thought-provoking discussions.”

Stearns isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and he expects his students to do the same. He was hired in 1989 to develop the landscape contracting program, the only program of its kind in the nation, and has been serving as coordinator ever since. He’s a recognized national leader in his field and a frequent consultant for other universities.

“I have to earn the respect of my students,” said Stearns. “I accomplish this by staying current with developments in my profession and by conducting learning experiences in a business-like manner.”

Stearns said students learn best by doing and structures his classes to be “process-oriented.”

“If they can analyze situations, identify alternatives, synthesize solutions and evaluate consequences, they will be successful in class and beyond,” he said.

In Stearns’ classes, students are faced with real-world assignments and are required to construct solutions.

“In my project-based courses,” said Stearns, “I prefer to empower students to participate in the planning, implementation and evaluation of their work. This allows me to function as a facilitator, guiding and encouraging discussion and directing activities to ensure that learning objectives are met.”

A former student said Stearns’ hands-on approach benefits the University Park campus as well as his students because he’s used the campus as the canvas for his students’ work. Last spring, the students helped renovate the Nittany Lion Inn’s dining patio, developing “important team-working and critical-analysis skills”

“Working to enhance the campus gave us students a way to leave our mark,” one student said. “We took pride in our projects, striving for both professional quality and a lasting contribution for the University, community and everyone who calls Penn State home.”

The Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty who have been employed full time for at least five years with undergraduate teaching as a major portion of their duties. Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, served as president of Penn State from 1950 to 1956.

Last Updated April 14, 2015