College of Science captures two out of six 2013 Murphy Awards

05-01-2013

Prof. Peter Hollenbeck reacts to the news he has won a Murphy Award
Prof. Peter Hollenbeck reacts to the news that he has won a Charles B. Murphy Award Monday morning in the lobby of Lilly Hall.

The College of Science was reminded how great its faculty are when it received a third of the 2013 Charles B. Murphy awards, which are the highest awards for instructors who teach undergraduates at Purdue University.

In late March, it was announced that Biological Sciences Prof. Peter Hollenbeck and Chemistry Prof. Marcy Towns were two of six Murphy Award winners. That brings the total to 35 Murphy’s for the College of Science since the award was established in 1967.

Hollenbeck’s story

While his students were shaking off the cobwebs of spring break, Peter Hollenbeck, a professor and associate department head of Biological Sciences, received a career honor on the morning of March 18 in Lilly Hall.

For the first time, the Murphy Award committee opted to surprise its winners.

Hollenbeck was summoned from his second-floor office to the Lilly lobby where he was presented with black and gold Purdue balloons, camera flashes, a video interview, and many congratulatory hugs and handshakes from Biological Sciences colleagues. Several students who happened to be nearby studying or reading The Exponent got to find out about Dr. Hollenbeck’s award when he did.

“It is a wonderful and deeply fulfilling feeling to win the Murphy award, the big one,” stated Dr. Hollenbeck, whose work with human nerve cells and Tourette syndrome is nationally recognized. “I knew that the award would be announced this week, but my department head, Richard Kuhn, caught me completely unaware and walked me into a surprise party. … It’s hard to express how much the success of my students and the respect of my faculty colleagues means to me.”

Ben-Amotz, who was on the selection committee, said Dr. Hollenbeck’s work outside of the classroom helped earn him the award. Hollenbeck puts dozens of hours a week to help students with his extended office hours, reworking of lesson plans and helping out at evening study sessions. 

“Good teaching and mentoring at Purdue can take many forms: managing lecture courses, teaching in more hands-on situations, working with first-generation or mature or at-risk students, getting involved in club sports, and other student activities,” he said. “We are privileged here to be able to influence the education and development of young people in many different ways.” 

Hollenbeck revealed he has been nominated numerous times during his Purdue tenure. He said he felt like Meryl Streep at the 2012 Oscars. The acclaimed actress had gone almost 30 years between awards despite 12 nominations. Hollenbeck finally got “the big one,” too.

“It was not a goal per se -- but after being nominated a number of times it was certainly a desire,” he said. “I have even more to live up to now. I will spend the rest of my career working hard to justify the recognition and trust that my colleagues and Purdue have given to me this week.”

Marcy Towns

Towns’ story

The second Charles B. Murphy Award given to a College of Science professor in three days occurred when Dr. Marcy Towns was surprised with the honor in a conference room in Wetherill Hall.

Surrounded by colleagues and her graduate students in the Chemistry Education research group, Towns gave huge smiles and hugs to everyone in the room, all while clutching black and gold balloons.

Towns was nominated for her efforts to cater to students with extended office hours and leading study sessions at locations away from Chemistry’s home base of Wetherill. For example, her evening sessions at the Black Cultural Center is an example of reaching out to undergraduates. 

Towns said it is especially important for all students to find success in 100-level Chemistry classes. They will need the momentum as they pursue their majors — whether it’s Science or other fields like Engineering, Agriculture, or Health and Human Sciences.

The University's highest undergraduate teaching honor, the Murphy Award is accompanied by a $10,000 cash award and induction into Purdue's Teaching Academy, which provides leadership for the improvement of undergraduate, graduate and outreach teaching. Murphy was a history professor at Purdue between 1927 and 1970. Historically, Chemistry and the College of Science as a whole have fared well in the Murphy Awards department. Since the awards were introduced in 1967, Chemistry professors have won 11 of the College of Science’s 35 Murphy Awards. Chemistry Prof. Dor Ben-Amotz won a Murphy in 2012.

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