UA's Talanquer Among Top Professor Honorees

His innovative, student-focused teaching made him a state-level winner in the 2015 U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program.
Nov. 19, 2015

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education has recognized University of Arizona professor Vicente Talanquer as one of the nation's best undergraduate educators.

Talanquer is a Distinguished Professor in the UA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry whose innovative, student-focused teaching techniques have made him one of the University's most engaging and well-respected educators and a state-level winner with the 2015 U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program.

"We are extremely proud of Professor Talanquer and this recognition of him as a U.S. Professor of the Year," said UA Provost Andrew Comrie. "Professor Talanquer is not only a great teacher, but also a leader in the science of redesigning courses and teaching for better student learning. With colleagues, he has identified active, problem-solving approaches that are more effective and more engaging for the students."

Talanquer contributes to research in the fields of chemical and science education for both the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds, developing theories of learning that impact the practice of science teaching from early education through graduate school.

"I try to approach teaching the same way I approach my research — with creativity and experimentation," Talanquer said. "It's important to constantly try a variety of ways to help students increase their own understanding."

In 2014, Talanquer and UA chemist John Pollard garnered national attention with a pilot course that brought a drastically different approach to science education. "Chemical Thinking" was the result of nearly a decade's worth of curriculum development that shifted the focus from lecture-based rote memorization of formulas and drills toward a more holistic way of thinking about chemical processes.

"We are seeing students who took part in this program perform much better on standardized final exams, and that improvement has followed into subsequent courses, where they are continuing to implement these learning techniques," Talanquer said. "In our department, we are making a much stronger effort to reform the traditional lecture and create more opportunities for students to actively engage with the material."

The UA was one of only eight institutions selected to participate in this National Science Foundation-funded program, and the pair will soon publish a book on their findings. Their paper, "Let’s Teach How We Think Instead of What We Know," published in Chemistry Education Research and Practice in 2010, is among the most widely cited pieces of research in the area of STEM education.

The U.S. Professors of the Year program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country — particularly those who positively influence the lives and careers of students. Sponsored by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, it is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring. Since launching the program in 1981, CASE has sought to honor those professors who display an extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching.

Talanquer has won a number of teaching awards since joining the UA faculty in 2000, including the Distinguished Achievement in Science Education Award in 2013, the Henry and Phyllis Koffler Prize in Teaching in 2012 and the Leicester & Kathryn Sherrill Creative Teaching Award in 2007. As an associate professor in the school of chemistry with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Talanquer was named an Outstanding Young Professor in Physical Sciences Education in 1998.