Evolutionary biology professor Rick Grosberg got his cake and ate it too, along with a $40,000 prize.
On Friday, March 12, Grosberg’s class in Storer Hall had a surprise interruption by cake, cameras and an entourage including Chancellor Linda Katehi.
As one of the largest awards in the nation for undergraduate teaching excellence, the UC Davis Foundation, funded by philanthropic donations, recognizes one professor each year for outstanding scholarship and teaching.
“It’s hard to choose because the list of nominees is so humbling,” said Kevin Bacon, head of the UCD Foundation. “The prize gives the winner the ability to do something special.”
Selection for the award is based on student evaluations, research peers’ advice and nominations from deans of different colleges. A committee, including Chancellor Katehi, spends a month sorting through student evaluations and recommendations before narrowing down the top nominees.
“He has really contributed tremendously to UC Davis,” Katehi said of Grosberg.
Evolutionary biology didn’t used to be of much interest to Grosberg, who admitted that he had no appreciation for science when he was young. It wasn’t until he strayed from his English major to take a science class at UC Santa Cruz that Grosberg realized science is about asking questions
Grosberg, who teaches large lecture classes like Intro to Biology, is also a part of the Collaborative Learning at the Interface of Mathematics and Biology (CLIMB) training program in which he teaches small seminar groups with seven to eight students.
“Through the CLIMB program he treats students like colleagues and forces them to think for themselves,” said graduate student Julia Svoboda, who has worked with Grosberg for three years. “He gives students a level of ownership over their research, and there is no one I would have rather written a nomination letter for.”
Grosberg’s contributions include the development of an interdisciplinary minor in quantitative biology and bioinformatics in 2003. He is also an elected fellow of the California Academy of Sciences.
A fervent believer in ‘nerdiness’, Grosberg believes the best education comes from a research institution, and that teaching and research are inextricably linked.
“Everyone is a nerd,” Grosberg said. “I try to find my students’ nerdiness in evolutionary biology.”
Grosberg discovered his nerdy niche when he realized that there wasn’t much research on connection between the social evolution of marine invertebrates and the evolution of altruism.
Interested in finding out why animals spend their energy helping others, Grosberg studied a species of snail that attach the egg sac to the male’s shell after mating so the male can provide all prenatal care.
Though Grosberg noted that a portion of his award money will be “donated” to the IRS, he plans on using the money for both personal and academic purposes.
A family trip to a place that Darwin would have loved, or went to, like the Galapagos is in the works, as well as a prize-money funded undergraduate trip to Africa.
While he loves science, Grosberg won’t forget to spend some of the money on his passion for cooking.
“I’ll buy an outdoor pizza oven, and a kitchen range. I want power, heat and BTUs!”
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at email@example.com.