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Cobern and Ledyaev named distinguished scholars

Oct. 28, 2008

KALAMAZOO--An internationally known mathematician and a science education expert who has explored the cultural component of improving science literacy will be honored by Western Michigan University as Distinguished Faculty Scholars during an Oct. 30 campuswide awards ceremony.

Dr. William W. Cobern, professor of biological sciences and director of the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, and Dr. Yuri S. Ledyaev, professor of mathematics, will be honored as Distinguished Faculty Scholars during WMU's Academic Convocation ceremonies at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. The event will feature WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address as well as the presentation of several other campuswide awards including Emerging Scholar, Distinguished Teaching and Distinguished Service awards.

The Distinguished Faculty Scholar award is the highest honor the University bestows on its faculty members. Established in 1978, it recognizes those whose work is widely recognized beyond the University and constitutes a significant body of achievement, most of which has been accomplished while a faculty member at WMU. The award goes to scholars nominated for consideration through a campuswide selection process and carries a $2,000 cash prize for each recipient.

Cobern holds a joint appointment as a professor of biological sciences and science education. He came to WMU in 1996 as associate professor of science education and coordinator of the elementary school master's program. Since then, he has been a principal researcher in a number of science education initiatives funded by the National Science Foundation and the Michigan Department of Education.

Scholars from around the globe wrote in support of his nomination, pointing to Cobern's groundbreaking work on worldviews and the impact that cultural orientation has on science learning as among his most significant achievements.

"His engagement with multicultural debates in science education addressed the tangled conflicts between universal and local knowledge and the boundaries between science and religion and raised the caliber of theses debates to their proper level of complexity," one international colleague wrote.

"Bill has developed a coherent line of research and established himself as a leader in a well-defined and important area of science education," noted a WMU colleague. "His work in the areas of culture, society, worldview and constructivism continue to impact national and international arenas in science education research."

A U.S. colleague praised Cobern's broad contributions and the attention his work has attracted. "Dr. Cobern is a science education scholar with a solid international reputation reflecting his intellect, integrity, honesty, tenacity, cultural savvy, vision and humor," she wrote. "…His research is both original and widely read."

Prior to coming to the University, he held faculty positions in science education at Arizona State University, Austin College in Texas and Judson Baptist College in Oregon. He also has been a visiting professor at Curtin University of Technology in Australia, the University of Auckland in New Zealand and New College Berkeley in California as well as a visiting lecturer in Nigeria. The author of 45 journal articles, 21 book chapters and two books, he also has edited an additional book and has served as a section editor for the journal Science Education. In 2005, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A 1971 graduate of the University of California-San Diego, Cobern earned a master's degree from San Diego State University in 1975 and a doctoral degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1979.

Mathematician Ledyaev was praised by those nominating him for his "great influence in the areas of control theory and nonsmooth analysis, distinguished record of publication and his consistent spirit of generosity." His wide-ranging research, supporters say, includes significant contributions in such areas as nonlinear control systems and global optimization problems.

Ledyaev, who has held visiting professorships at universities in five nations, has been a WMU faculty member since 1997. Letters of support for his work also came from around the world and reflect Ledyaev's stature in the international mathematics community as well as his ability to communicate the essence of his work and inspire others.

"When Yuri speaks, we all listen," noted an Israeli colleague. "Indeed, Yuri will be honored with the Scholar Award, but at the same time, Western Michigan University will be honored by having Yuri among the awardees."

A French mathematician who has worked closely with Ledyaev wrote "...while I have had a number of collaborators of high quality and repute in the course of my career, the ability, imagination and insight that Yuri Ledyaev brings to bear is second to none. I consider our joint work to be some of my best and most important..."

Ledyaev is the author or co-author of more than 60 journal articles, the co-author of a book published by the world's premier publisher in the field of mathematics and a member of the editorial board of three journals. He also is the recipient of a number of rare National Science Foundation grants for pure research in mathematics.

Ledyaev earned master's and doctoral degrees from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and a doctoral degree as well from the Steklov Institute of Mathematics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He began his teaching career at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and served as a researcher at the Steklov Institute before moving to North America and undertaking a series of visiting professorships, first in Canada, then the United Kingdom and France before joining the WMU faculty.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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