4/14/14 ASHLAND, Ohio – Ashland University faculty member Merrill Tawse is the recipient of AU’s 2014 Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award. AU Provost Dr. Frank Pettigrew presented the award at AU’s Academic Honors Convocation on Sunday (April 13) in the Jack and Deb Miller Chapel.
The award, first presented in 1997, was endowed by former Jeromesville residents the late Edward and Louaine Taylor as a way of supporting high quality teaching at Ashland University.
A professional instructor of biology and toxicology, Tawse joined the Ashland University faculty in 2010 from the MedCentral College of Nursing science department and is currently teaching human anatomy and physiology, entomology and biology courses as well as a core ecology course for the department. He received his Master of Science in Entomology from the University of Nebraska and his Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Ohio State University.
A resident of Mansfield, Tawse has more than 30 years in outdoor education and research at the Gorman Nature Center and his areas of expertise include the distribution and foraging behaviors of the insectivorous bats found within the four-state region through the utilization of mist netting, acoustic monitoring, radio-telemetry and fecal pellet analysis.
His previous field experiences include numerous survey projects directed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, NASA and ODNR. He also has secured grants from Ohio Biological Survey, Ohio Division of Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for several long-term research projects at Mohican State Forest, the Ravenna Army Arsenal and Killbuck Wildlife areas.
Pettigrew praised the selection of Tawse as the 2014 Taylor Teaching Award recipient, noting that Tawse epitomizes the true instructional faculty member.
“His emphasis is on his teaching and mentoring of students. He has committed his professional life to developing a variety of pedagogical aspects that permits students multiple opportunities to learn content through a variety of approaches,” Pettigrew said. “Merrill is a passionate teacher and strives to create an environment in science where students can have a childlike sense of awe and wonder.”
Following the award presentation, Tawse spoke on his teaching philosophy for motivating his students in an address titled “Let’s Catch Stuff!”
“Wow, with all the gifted educators that comprise the Ashland University community, I am humbled and I am honored to be receiving this teaching award,’ said at the beginning of his speech. “It really means a lot to me.”
Tawse tied many of his comments back to the title of his speech, “Let’s Catch Stuff,” and asked those in the audience how they think this title relates to his teaching philosophy.
He said it could relate to the fact that he teaches a lot of anatomy and physiology to students from the College of Nursing, and that these A&P courses are cadaver based; or that he has the opportunity to teach a variety of courses in the biology department, such as entomology and catching insects; or that he has the opportunity to work with students in field based research and that could mean wading across the Mohican River at night to check the mist nets for bats and watching as a student catches and pulls his or her first bat from the nets.
Tawse said all of those items are still exciting for him, but they don’t match catching a glimpse of students as they begin to have their “Ah-Ha” moments as they see how the driving forces of nature and the pressure of the perpetuation of the species fits into the grand scheme of things.
“What can be better than providing students with the opportunities so they can catch some of these life experiences? My role in higher education is to orchestrate just such situations in the classroom, the lab or the research setting,” he said. “Sometimes I feel that those of us in the biology department have it the easiest, maybe in my bias I’d say we have it the best. Whether in the field or the lab, it seems there are many situations ideal to grasping the student’s attention, inspiring them to observe, to question, to hypothesize and to research.”
Tawse then added, “But it can’t stop here.” He said he firmly believes that his task as an educator is to “catch stuff.”
“To catch the student’s attention, to catch their interest and then, like when catching animals, my focus needs to be providing for the student’s educational needs, helping to guide them, so we nurture this interest and encourage them to go beyond just the physical catching,” he said.
“Somehow as educators we need to strive to create those learning environments where there is a greater chance that it will result in the students catching those moments, where they can have a sense of awe and wonder, and hopefully catch a sense of responsibility to be among those who will bring about needed discoveries and changes in the future,” he said.
Tawse said he agrees that this is more easily done when you find yourself at night standing with students on the edge of a vernal pool and watching a mass of 50 or more salamanders twisting and cavorting in the dark icy cold waters.
“But our challenge is always; how can we bring about the same sense to the student’s learning environment when we are ‘stuck in the classroom’ and instructing them about something that seems as lifeless as the physiology of the Renin-angiotensin mechanism?”
Herein lies our daily challenge in the world of higher education, he said.
“In working with majors or with non-majors, whenever possible, we need to strive to have the student’s catch it -- to bring it home, to tie it to them personally and take it beyond just the factual level of learning,” he said. “Like all of my colleagues, our teaching and our content areas are our passions; this is what we daily work to pass on, and to ignite within our students! Let’s catch stuff. Let’s facilitate our students catching stuff.”
Tawse ended his address with a comment directed toward the students. “To these many students here today with your well-deserved awards, I challenge you to, in your lives before you, take the attitude of Let’s Catch stuff.”
The Taylor Teaching Award Committee, whose purpose is to select the award recipient, reviews submitted materials of faculty members who are nominated by students, faculty or department chairs. The committee, comprised of former Taylor Award winners, also observed classroom sessions of those who were nominated.
All full-time faculty with a minimum of three years of teaching experience at AU are eligible for the award. Recipients of the award cannot repeat for three years and no faculty member may win the award more than twice. The recipients receive a medal to be worn with academic regalia and a stipend.
Ashland University, which has been ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###