Press Release

Ohio Wesleyan’s Laurel J. Anderson Named Ohio Professor of the Year

November 19, 2015 – by Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan professor Laurel J. 'Laurie' Anderson has been named the 2015 Ohio Professor of the Year. (Photo by Mark Schmitter)

Botany-Microbiology Professor Led Creation of International Undergraduate Research Network

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University professor Laurel J. “Laurie” Anderson, Ph.D., today was named the 2015 Ohio Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Anderson, a professor of botany-microbiology at Ohio Wesleyan since 2001, is the second OWU professor to earn the prestigious honor. Zoology professor Edward H. “Jed” Burtt Jr., now retired, was named the 2011 Ohio Professor of the Year.

Anderson is being recognized at an awards luncheon today in Washington, D.C., and then at a congressional reception at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill.

According to the award sponsors, the U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program “salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country – those who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students.”

Anderson said she is honored to be deemed successful as both a teacher and mentor by the CASE and Carnegie higher education organizations.

“I stepped into my classroom to teach this morning, and I didn’t see students,” she told the Professor of the Year selection committee. “Instead, I saw research partners. … I didn’t see people with different academic majors. Instead, I saw people with diverse expertise and unique personal perspectives to contribute to our discussions of complex environmental problems. I saw people who care about their local and global community.

“Through teaching,” Anderson continued, “I want to empower students to solve environmental problems by providing critical knowledge about the science relevant to these challenges, while also stressing that science is necessary but not sufficient: Tools from diverse disciplines are needed to achieve environmental sustainability. …

“I am amazed by the complex, interacting ecosystems on our planet, and I feel privileged to explore these ecosystems with my students, and excited to progress with them toward real, lasting solutions to global environmental problems.”

To help find such lasting solutions, Anderson led a team of colleagues from small colleges and universities in 2010 to create the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) with funding from the National Science Foundation.

EREN’s mission is to create and test models for collaborative, publishable, ecological research that involves undergraduate students and faculty collecting coordinated data across a continental-scale network of research sites. EREN now includes 277 faculty members from 195 institutions, and a 2015 survey indicated that more than 4,000 undergraduate students had participated in an EREN project or used EREN data since its founding.

“By engaging in these projects,” Anderson said, “students in our classes are contributing data to authentic, multi-site experiments and are thinking about ecology in a continental context, while also appreciating the power of scientific collaboration.”

Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D., said Anderson’s work in creating EREN is just one example of the forward-thinking and impactful accomplishments of “OWU’s very deserving 2015 Ohio Professor of the Year.”

“The seeds Laurie Anderson planted with EREN have grown strong roots,” Jones said. “The network benefits undergraduate students by enabling them to fill research positions normally available only to graduate students at research institutions. It also allows faculty to train and work closely with the undergraduate students on research methods – a practice that often leads to co-authored, peer-reviewed publications of their joint findings and discoveries.

“In addition to this international impact, Laurie also has embraced the university’s most forward-looking pedagogical program, including our Travel-Learning Courses and Course Connections,” Jones said. “The two programs are part of The OWU Connection, a faculty-led initiative to help students link classroom theory with real-world experience and to understand the world’s most pressing issues from multiple academic perspectives.”

Anderson’s involvement with The OWU Connection includes developing and leading Travel-Learning Courses to Brazil that have helped students to directly observe and consider the complexities of human interactions with the environment in the Amazon, the Brazilian savanna, and the Pantanal wetlands.

She also has served as chair of the university’s Sustainability Task Force and as a faculty contact for a Course Connection titled “Food: How Production and Consumption Shape Our Bodies, Our Cultures, and Our Environment.” The series of connected courses examines the importance of food as biological fuel, a natural resource with issues of abundance and scarcity, a cultural expression and human obsession, a multibillion-dollar component of the global economy, and an international environmental issue via agriculture and waste disposal.

Anderson’s primary research area is plant physiological ecology, and her current research interests involve invasive plants, urban ecosystems, and plant interactions with global changes, such as increasing temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Throughout her career, Anderson has published peer-reviewed scientific papers on a range of ecological topics, including two with undergraduate authors, and authored or co-authored multiple presentations at national meetings, including seven with undergraduate authors.

She was a co-founder and chair of the Researchers at Undergraduate Institutions Section of the Ecological Society of America (2007-2009), and served on the Higher Education subcommittee of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) Design Consortium (2005).

Anderson earned her Bachelor of Arts in biology/environmental science from Colby College and her doctorate in plant ecology from the University of Colorado. Learn more about Anderson and OWU’s Department of Botany-Microbiology at www.owu.edu/botany and more about The OWU Connection at www.owu.edu/connection.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) have been partners in the U.S. Professors of the Year awards program since 1981. The Stanford, Calif.-based Carnegie Foundation was founded in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie and is “committed to developing networks of ideas, individuals, and institutions to advance teaching and learning.” The Washington, D.C.-based CASE organization is one of the largest international associations of education institutions, serving more than 3,670 universities, colleges, schools, and related organizations in 80 countries. Learn more at www.carnegiefoundation.org or www.case.org.


Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers 87 undergraduate majors and competes in 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Ohio Wesleyan combines a challenging, internationally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities to connect classroom theory with real-world experience. OWU’s 1,675 students represent 43 U.S. states and territories and 33 countries. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” listed on the latest President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at www.owu.edu.