Claude Yoder with Allison Griffith '10
(from the November 19, 2010 edition of The Diplomat)
When Geosciences Professor Dorothy Merritts learned she would receive the Bradley R. Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship this year, one of her first thoughts was that she would have to deliver a Common Hour lecture.
"I don't get nervous about giving lectures, because I do it all the time," she says. "But it's a tall order to give a lecture that engages both students and faculty across all disciplines. And I wanted to make students think deeply about what they're learning and the value of learning."
She needn't have worried. Merritts' enthusiasm for her discipline is infectious, and a listener cannot help but be drawn into the details of her research.
It is the same intellectual energy that animated Brad Dewey. And it is that commitment to both scholarship and teaching that his namesake award is intended to recognize.
Over the past 20 years the award has been bestowed on remarkable professors in disciplines as varied as English, biology and American studies. When you listen to these diverse scholars speak about their approaches to teaching, the role of research and the meaning of the Dewey Award, three commonalities emerge.
First, they are all fiercely dedicated educators. Second, they believe passionately in the power of research to enrich the classroom experience. Third, their ongoing scholarship makes better learners not only of their students but also of themselves.
While learning from their own scholarship, these professors are applying the findings to enrich the classroom experience.
The first recipient of the Dewey Award, in 1990, was Claude Yoder '62, Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry. Yoder's research focuses on double salts, compounds that contain more than one positively or negatively charged ion. The double salt Yoder is interested in forms the inorganic portion of teeth and bone.
It is a simple structure that turns out to be enormously complex. By understanding how it behaves, doctors might know how to treat certain bone-related diseases. But Yoder is not primarily concerned with applied science. Rather, he is motivated by a desire to gain knowledge about a chemical structure.
His research has practical applications as well. For starters, he can use his scholarship, as well as the tools and methodologies involved, to enrich classroom lectures. Just as important, students have an opportunity to partici-pate. "Students are incorporated into every part of our research," Yoder says. "In fact, they're doing the research. They're my colleagues."
One such student is Natalie Flora '04, who worked with Yoder as an intern throughout her college career. She co-authored multiple academic papers with him and developed a model for measuring certain aspects of double salts that the department still uses.
"He was a truly iconic teacher," Flora says. "His classes weren't the easy classes. He expected a lot of you. But he was very concerned with helping students succeed."
Flora expresses gratitude that Yoder invested in her as a student and a researcher. "But more than that," she says, "he was a huge influence on me holistically as a person."
Today Flora is a pastoral adviser for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. "I originally planned to become a professor and influence the lives of students the way Professor Yoder influenced mine," she says. As it turns out, she is doing just that.
Chemistry research at F&M has changed in the years since Yoder was a student working with Professor Fred Snavely '49. "The attitude in those days was that, if you were going to do anything important, you had to be at a graduate school," he says. "And I thought, 'Like hell.' I knew we could take the values of an undergraduate education, with small classes and close interaction between faculty and students, and combine that with great research."
The advantages of that research accrue to the professors. "It means you're reading at least one body of literature all the time," Yoder says. "It also exposes you to new techniques. Then there is the process of publication, and the fact that other experts are evaluating your work. That's invaluable for your growth as a scientist."
Yoder feels deeply honored to have received the Dewey Award. "Brad Dewey was a role model for a lot of us," he says, "because he was an excellent scholar: thoughtful, careful, creative and dedicated to high academic standards and principles."