Boal and Garner receive 2020 C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching

July 13, 2021

Amie Boal, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology as well as chemistry, and Ronald “Aaron” Garner, associate teaching professor of chemistry, have been honored with the 2020 C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society. Instituted in 1972 and named in honor of Clarence I. Noll, dean of the college from 1965 to 1971, the award is the highest honor for undergraduate teaching in the college. Students, faculty members, and alumni nominate outstanding faculty members who best exemplify the key characteristics of a Penn State educator, and a committee of students selects the award winners from the group of nominees.

Amie Boal

Boal’s primary goal in teaching is to help students develop skills to identify problems through collaboration with peers, elucidate its molecular basis, and design a solution.

“The part I loved most about Dr. Boal’s class was her incredible skill of simplifying complex material and transforming it into something that can be easily understood,” said one of Boal’s students. “Her lectures were also remarkably interesting and engaging because she constantly shared real-life, relevant examples of the course material.”

In her undergraduate courses, Boal uses part of each session to encourage students to think about biochemistry problems that are present in their day-to-day lives. This critical thinking and problem solving has led to conversations in office hours and how in classroom concepts can be applied. Boal believes that one of the most important things that science educators can teach young people is how to critically analyze data. 

“My instructional activities have allowed me to recruit a large number of talented undergraduates to participate in my research program, particularly from underrepresented groups,” said Boal. “At a large institution, it can be challenging for students to identify mentors, and I have made a concerted effort to facilitate these opportunities.”

Boal joined Penn State as an assistant professor in 2013 and was promoted to associate professor in 2019. Prior to that, she was a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Molecular Biosciences at Northwestern University. She earned a doctoral degree in chemistry and chemical engineering at the University of California Institute of Technology, in 2008 and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Pomona College in 2002.

Ronald “Aaron” Garner

Garner teaches using engaging and adaptable curriculum that is consistent with scientific research in education while establishing a welcoming and inclusive climate that promotes learning.

“Dr. Garner constantly goes above and beyond to meet the needs of students, often sacrificing one's own time beyond what is expected,” said one of Garner’s students. “Every semester, he attempts to learn the name of every student taking the course. I felt that this was effective at making students feel more comfortable asking him questions. Before an exam, he also extends his office hours in calibration to the student demand.”

Peers of Garner also commend him for actively innovating teaching pedagogy. His introduction of new concepts begins with reading that prepares students for lecture, uses variation in clicker questions to allow students to gain comprehensive understanding, and concludes with a take-home exam that focuses on key concepts. Notably, Garner has designed and organized lectures that connect textbook topics to daily life. He explained that contextualization of course content is an important element of his teaching and students agree.

“Dr. Garner is unlike any science professor I have experienced at Penn State. He takes his time describing these concepts and breaks them down into an easy-to-follow way,” said one of Garner’s students. “Thanks to Dr. Garner and his teaching style and the effort he puts in to ensure that his students understand this content, I never leave his class feeling stressed or overwhelmed. I hope that there are more professors out there like him.”

Garner joined Penn State as an assistant teaching professor in 2016 and was promoted to associate teaching professor in 2020. He is currently also the assistant head for Ethics in the Undergraduate Curriculum. Prior to that, he was part of the teaching faculty in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. He earned a doctoral degree in chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, in 2014 and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biological sciences, and botany at North Carolina State University in 2008.


Last Updated July 13, 2021