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Anderson Earns Berea's Highest Faculty Honor

Dr. Dawn Anderson is no stranger to professional accolades. In her 14 years at the college she’s won the Paul C. Hager Advising award (2003) and the Labor Supervisor award (2003). But her latest honor, the 2006 Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching, could be her most prized.

Dr. Dawn Anderson

The award, given at Berea College’s 2006 commencement ceremonies, is voted on each year by faculty members that have won the award in the past. It is the highest honor one professor can bestow upon another, a testament to one’s teaching strengths and ability to positively influence and encourage his or her students.

“Anything that is awarded by your peers is significant,” Anderson said. “I think the faculty here is fantastic and I think there are many people who could have won this award. I really feel a sense of honor.”

Anderson, associate professor of biology and chair of the biology department, admits that being a college professor is anything but an easy job. Anderson doesn’t do it for the glory, she says, she does it because it’s the right thing to do.

“I really like teaching,” Anderson said. “I like interacting with the students and I like learning. I actually get paid for what I like to do. I love microbiology and genetics, I think its fun, and I want my students to find it equally interesting and exciting and fun.”

Her students undoubtedly have fun. Just sit in a room with Dr. Anderson for a few minutes and you will feel both her passion for her subject and her passion for her students. Her bright personality and occasional spurts of laughter – when a humorous topic emerges – give way to a serious persona when she discusses her goals for her students.

The goal, Anderson says, is to prepare her students for graduate school, which requires hard work and discipline. A big part of preparing students for the next level is relating to students on a personal level and giving them encouragement, something Anderson found difficult to do in the large classes at the University of Washington in Seattle where she taught while studying for her Ph.D.

“Just getting to know the 14 students in the front row of a class of 300 students is not my thing,” Anderson explained.

At Berea, Anderson tries to give students a balance between the knowledge they need and the practical tools to apply that knowledge. Anderson also believes the pertinence of some of today’s medical advances has helped encourage students and their desire to learn more about micro and molecular biology.

“In the very near future we’re going to be able to sequence your genome at a very low cost,” Anderson said. “Your doctor will have all that information and can design drugs specifically for you and diagnose diseases. This is not future future; this is near future. Students need to know about things like that, and if I can help show students all the things that are coming then they’ll see the fun and excitement in it.”

While obviously passionate about her field of study, Anderson also feels a great connection to Berea students. Her parents did not earn a great amount of money – her father was a fireman and her mother was a school bus driver – so her background is similar to that of many Berea students.

“This is a meaningful job,” Anderson said. “You can make a difference. I think of the people who helped me get where I am – just one or two people that did what they thought was a small thing, and it made all the difference in the world. And to think that I have the opportunity to be that person to someone else; that’s a pretty great job to have.”

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