Professor of mathematics named 2013 ASU Professor of the Year


April 17, 2013

The Arizona State University Sun Devil Family Association honored Stephen Wirkus, professor of mathematics in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, as the 2013 Professor of the Year for his lifelong commitment to mathematics and his ability to inspire students to become innovative and successful in often-difficult classes.

Wirkus teaches at ASU at the West campus during the academic year, with many commuter and non-traditional students attending his classes. During the summer, he works at the Tempe campus in the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute as co-executive program director for a summer program that focuses on underrepresented minorities. Download Full Image

“I’m truly humbled to have been chosen among such stellar colleagues – I’m still in disbelief,” Wirkus told attendees April 16 at the 2013 Faculty Excellence Awards, a celebration of faculty achievement. “I’m happy to have been able to make a difference in the lives of my students and thankful for the supportive environment that ASU has provided for me as a faculty to grow as a teacher and mentor, and thereby serve and impact our communities. This award is particularly meaningful because it is a true testament to ASU’s commitment to access, excellence and impact on our communities and the value that the Sun Devil Family Association puts in this.”

Wirkus, who completed his doctorate in 1999 at Cornell University, continues to share his applied mathematics skills with students who strive to learn what he has over the years. He arrived at ASU in 2007 and has since created the bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics at the West campus and two new courses involving applied mathematics in biology and upper-division applications.

Special Recognition awards also were presented to Ann Kinzig and Kevin McGraw, both professors of life sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Information and a video about the 24 nominees can be found at asu.edu/pty.

After teaching for 17 years, Wirkus has created the program at ASU that he says he wishes he would have had as an undergraduate. Outside of ASU, he continues to increase his mathematical presence within the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and has been awarded grants totaling more than $680,000 by the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency to support hundreds of undergraduate mathematics students traveling to the annual SACNAS conference.

Several undergraduate students and faculty colleagues contributed letters in support of Wirkus’ nomination. These letters were considered by the committee of parents, other Professor of the Year winners and scholarship students in recognizing Wirkus. The ASU Sun Devil Family Association awarded the first Professor of the Year award in 1994.

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ASU, Arizona Science Center awarded $30K for science and literacy partnership


April 17, 2013

The Central Arizona Writing Project at Arizona State University and the Arizona Science Center have been awarded a joint grant of $30,000 to advance professional development at the center via a public writing and science literacy partnership. The initiative is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation to design a program that will integrate science and literacy.

The Central Arizona Writing Project is a local site for the National Writing Project (NWP) housed within the Department of English, and grew out of a collaboration between ASU, the NWP and local area schools, to enhance professional development of Arizona's K-16 students and teachers. Download Full Image

The grant will further strengthen the existing partnerships between the university and the Arizona Science Center. With great support from the Office Knowledge of Enterprise and Development, English professors Jessica Early and Christina Saidy-Hannah will work with a team of K-12 teachers from the Central Arizona Writing Project to develop a series of training workshops for the center’s staff.

The idea for the program came directly from conversations with Arizona Science Center leadership who saw that while employees came from a background of scientific study, they were interested in more support in communicating scientific knowledge to a diverse audience through reading and writing.

“The Arizona Science Center employees have vast scientific knowledge but are not necessarily formally trained in how to communicate this information to the public through writing,” said Saidy-Hannah. “With our support, we can help them in their goals of communicating that science is a daily part of life.”

The Central Arizona Writing Project is one of five sites selected to take part in the grant opportunity. Other winners are the Montana Writing Project and spectrUM Discovery; the San Diego Area Writing Project, San Diego Natural History Museum, and the Fleet Inquiry Institute; the UNC Charlotte Writing Project and Discovery Place; and the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project and Carnegie Science Museum.

For Early, director of the Central Arizona Writing Project, the grant offers a unique opportunity to pair K-12 teachers with scientists in the local community.

“This project directly falls under Michael Crow’s vision to improve social embeddedness in research and teaching," Early said. "Because of this, our research program is now brought to a community space for the benefit of all involved. I believe it will open a lot more doors for future community engagement and collaborative research."

In the spring of 2012, leadership within the university began engaging the Arizona Science Center in discussions on how to further expand their partnership in a more strategic manner. With the center receiving more than half a million visitors annually, ASU saw a perfect opportunity to highlight the groundbreaking research taking place across all four campuses. In turn, the center benefits from having the university as a direct touchpoint to bring new and different types of science content to their facility.

Already the center is working with ASU on a variety of projects, including the promotion of STEM education – advancing technology and engineering interest in the community – and co-hosting events such as planetarium shows at the center.

For more information about the partnership, visit http://www.inspireazscience.org.