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November 17,
2003

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Physicist named NY professor of the year

Steven Manly, associate professor of physics and astronomy, has been named New York State Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Manly, along with 43 other winners from across the country, was honored at a luncheon at the National Press Club on November 13, with a reception in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill later that evening.

"Steve has made an enormous impact on the teaching mission of the College in a very short time," says Thomas LeBlanc, Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the College Faculty. "From his teaching of introductory physics to premed and life sciences students to his introduction of peer-led workshops into the physics curriculum, Steve has been continuously engaged in improving undergraduate teaching using innovative methods. It is fitting that his efforts be recognized with this appointment."

When Manly joined the University in 1998, he began teaching Introductory Physics, a class that historically received low marks on student evaluations due in part to what Manly describes as a "sink-or-swim" approach that frustrated many of the nonphysics majors--a group that made up the majority of those taking the course. Manly decided that though that approach worked reasonably well for upper-level physics majors and graduate students, it was unnecessarily frustrating for a large fraction of nonphysics majors. With these students in mind, he began developing a support infrastructure to help them more easily grasp the course material.

One component of that support network has been the introduction of course workshops, modeled after a system first brought to the University by Professor of Chemistry Jack Kampmeier. During two hour-long sessions each week, students work with peers and a graduate student leader to tackle problems as a group. Workshop leaders are trained to make the students comfortable enough to ask questions and confront concepts they don't understand. The approach has worked so well that student evaluations are now the highest they've ever been for an introductory physics course, with 80 percent crediting the workshops as a major strength.

"His ability to place himself in the shoes of his students and to empathize with what it is to (again) be an undergraduate is outstanding," says Nick Bigelow, Lee Dubridge Professor of Physics and director of undergraduate studies.

In April 2002, Manly's initiatives in teaching were recognized by the University when he was named Mercer Brugler Distinguished Teaching Professor.

"I have two goals in my teaching," says Manly. "One it to teach students some physics and increase their awareness of the world around them. The other, perhaps more important goal, is to teach them to think. If a student leaves my course with an enhanced ability to face an unknown problem confidently and think their way through it, I consider that a major victory. Problem-solving skills go way beyond physics. It just turns out that elementary physics is the perfect place to teach people how."



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