Astronomy professor recognized for excellence in teaching

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) has awarded FIU physics Professor Caroline Simpson, the 2016 Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in college astronomy teaching.

Through more than a century of operation, the ASP is the largest general astronomy society in the world with members from over 70 nations.

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Caroline Simpson

Established by Jeanne and Allan Bishop in honor of her father, Richard Emmons — an astronomer with a life-long dedication to astronomy education — the annual award recognizes an individual demonstrating outstanding achievement in the teaching of college-level introductory astronomy for non-science majors.

“It’s the greatest professional honor I have ever received,” Simpson said. “I love teaching, particularly teaching astronomy to non-science students, and to receive national recognition for this is just amazing.”

Simpson was one of the first physics professors at FIU to transform a lecture-style class into an active learning format. The course was Stellar Astronomy — a basic introductory astronomy class for non-science majors. She incorporated evidence-based, team-centric instruction techniques into her class including collaborative learning methods, learning assistants and a variety of laboratory activities. She also designed and currently teaches online introductory astronomy courses for non-majors.

Simpson studies star formation in small or dwarf galaxies. Star formation is how galaxies evolve over time, galaxies are the main components of the universe, so ultimately, she studies how the universe evolves.

For Simpson, what’s most rewarding is interacting with students and seeing their view of the world, and the universe, evolve.

“It’s fulfilling seeing them stretch their minds to think about things beyond their current horizon, both literally and metaphorically,” Simpson said. “I enjoy delving into questions about how the universe works, learning new things no one has known before.”

The award will be presented October 22 at ASP’s annual meeting in San Francisco, Ca.


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