KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Discovering the structure of DNA, diagnosing sickle-cell anemia, and explaining the evolution of peppered moths all have one thing in common. They were made possible by science. Behind each scientific achievement, there is also a story.
Named the 2022 College Science Teacher of the Year, Dr. David Rudge uses these stories to inspire his students. A professor of biological sciences and science education, he teaches both undergraduate and graduate students in the Western Michigan University College of Arts and Sciences.
The annual award from the Michigan Science Teachers Association honors a teacher who uses and models best practices, inspires students, demonstrates innovative teaching strategies, serves as an excellent role model for students and teachers alike, demonstrates leadership and exhibits a passion for science and teaching.
An Innovative Approach to Teaching
“A teacher is one who instructs. An educator, on the other hand, is one who imparts knowledge through compassion and demonstration,” says Allison Witucki, a doctoral student who has studied with Rudge. “An educator guides their students on what it truly means to be a lifelong learner and pursuer of knowledge. An educator sparks curiosity and excitement. David Rudge is not just a teacher; he is the embodiment of a true educator.”
Students leave Rudge’s classroom excited to delve deeper into scientific study. In part, that’s because of his innovative approach to education. Rudge teaches science through a historical and philosophical lens, showing his students how stories from the history of science can explain scientific advancements and changes in the field.
“There are a group of people who turned off to science, and there’s a lot of research to suggest it’s because of how science is taught. Oftentimes, it’s taught as a series of facts to be memorized,” says Rudge.
“In particular, a biology course often has more new technical terms than a foreign language course—really, it has that effect. So, the special advantage, to my mind, of using stories is that it engages students in a way that traditionally taught science classes do not.”
Engaging in Scientific Inquiry
Rudge prepares his students to be critical thinkers and engage in scientific inquiry. He encourages students to learn in groups, from one another and independently, being mindful that students come to class with different learning styles.
“We, as instructors, need to be innovative when it comes to how we teach,” says Rudge. “There’s a certain level of scientific literacy that everybody should have, and so we need to think of what things could we do to make science more interesting or relevant for the vast majority who aren’t pursuing careers as scientists.”
Graduate students in his science education courses are required to write a paper, and he gives each student careful feedback on their work, asking them to rewrite the paper while reflecting upon their ideas.
The special challenge of teaching science and science education, Rudge says, is reawakening the natural curiosity for the world that people experience as children. He said too many people write science off as a boring subject with nothing new to discover.
“If you’ve ever done science, you know nothing could be further than the truth,” said Rudge. “As a philosopher, I think the thing that’s always intrigued me about science is: This is one domain where progress seems to be possible.”
In addition to teaching, Rudge has served in many leadership roles and published a number of articles in peer-reviewed journals. His past research has focused on evolutionary biology and the work of H. B. D. Kettlewell, and he studies how the history of philosophy and science can be used to inform the teaching of science.
He has served as president of the International History, Philosophy and Science Teaching Group and project director of a National Science Foundation grant to improve middle school science teaching. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Duke University and a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Pittsburgh.
Preparing the Next Generation of Educators
At Western, Rudge received the 2018 College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Achievement Award in Teaching. He currently serves on the board of the University's Center for the Humanities. He holds a joint appointment in the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, and he has a passion for working with graduate students in science education.
“We live in a really challenging time, so it’s nice to work with people whose eyes are filled with the promise of tomorrow,” Rudge says.
No matter where his work takes him, educating the next generation of science educators is Rudge’s ‘raison d'être.’
“It’s incredibly inspiring and enlightening to have instructors who are, at the very core of higher education, so vital to our students’ success,” says WMU President Dr. Edward Montgomery. “Dr. Rudge exemplifies excellence in the classroom as an innovator, a role model, a leader and a passionate teacher.”
Rudge will be honored at an awards ceremony during the 2022 Michigan Science Teachers Association Conference on Friday, March 4.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.