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Dr. Jason Halfen Wins Prestigious Dreyfus Award
For Research and Teaching
MAILED: Nov. 13, 2001
EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire chemist is one of five professors nationwide to win this year's Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation of New York.
Dr. Jason Halfen, associate professor of chemistry, was honored with the $60,000 Teacher-Scholar Award for his accomplishments in teaching, mentoring and research with undergraduate students. He is the first UW-Eau Claire faculty member to receive the Teacher-Scholar Award from the Dreyfus Foundation.
"I'm very pleased and quite humbled to be recognized with this award," Halfen said. "This award recognizes the scientific strides that my students and I have made since I arrived at UW-Eau Claire in 1997. But it also makes it possible for us to pursue areas of research that would otherwise be beyond the scope of our resources.
"Receipt of this award certainly marks a high point in my career to date."
Halfen's teaching and research skills have been highly praised by students, faculty and other researchers, said Dr. Jack Pladziewicz, chair of the chemistry department.
Chemistry students selected Halfen as their Professor of the Year in 1997, a tribute to his good judgment, strong communication skills, exceptional work ethic and gift for teaching, said Pladziewicz, who nominated Halfen for the Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award.
Halfen's commitment to providing his students with a quality science education extends well beyond the classroom, Pladziewicz said, noting that Halfen has received more than $250,000 in external grants for undergraduate research projects, funding that provides financial support for students, travel, equipment and supplies.
"He involves his undergraduate research collaborators in all aspects of his projects: planning, synthesis, characterization, data analysis, and preparation and presentation of the results," Pladziewicz said. "Undergraduate research at this level of student involvement is a powerful means of teaching. Five of his research students already are in Ph.D. programs in the chemical sciences."
In the classroom, Halfen encourages his students to work together to analyze data and work through challenging problems. He also works closely with two to four students each semester and in the summer on research projects, serving as a teacher and mentor.
"These students work side-by-side with me to tackle chemical problems of real-world significance," Halfen said. "I try to give my students not only a significant amount of experience in a true research environment, but also inspiration and guidance about what it means to be a professional scientist.
"In my view, no undergraduate training in any of the sciences is complete without some exposure to research. Science is not static, it is constantly marching forward, and the material that we will teach our students in the future is being discovered in research laboratories today."
It was Halfen's ability to help students think critically and abstractly - which a scientist must do - that made him such a valuable teacher, said Joseph Emerson, a 1999 UW-Eau Claire chemistry graduate who is pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia.
"Jason taught me how to think about science and discovery on a higher level," said Emerson, who describes Halfen as his mentor. "Demonstrating a different way to think is a challenge in itself. But coupling that with teaching through a rapidly changing media, like science, is truly remarkable."
This is the second time that the Dreyfus Foundation has honored Halfen. In 1997, Halfen became the first UW-Eau Claire faculty member to receive a faculty start-up grant from the Dreyfus Foundation. Dr. Stephen Drucker, assistant professor of chemistry, received the same award a year later.
Halfen's most recent national honor underscores the quality of the university's chemistry program, a program whose reputation for excellence helps the university attract some of the country's top teacher-scholars in the sciences as well as some of the Midwest's brightest science students, Pladziewicz said, noting that UW-Eau Claire ranks first among Carnegie Masters I and II chemistry programs nationwide in the number of graduates going on to earn Ph.D.s.
It was the department's reputation and the university's emphasis on student-faculty collaborative research that brought him to UW-Eau Claire five years ago, Halfen said.
"UW-Eau Claire's chemistry department is emerging as the leader among chemistry departments at public undergraduate institutions," Halfen said. "We have a vibrant faculty with diverse scientific interests, which makes UW-Eau Claire an exciting academic environment in which to work. But I would not have received this award were it not for the hard work and dedication of the undergraduate students who have worked in my research labs.
"The students who come through our department are a special breed, steeped with many of the qualities that produce successful future scientists: curiosity, dedication and a strong intellectual foundation."
Halfen currently teaches courses in inorganic and general chemistry, and conducts research in synthetic inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry, and X-ray crystallography.
Before joining UW-Eau Claire's faculty, Halfen was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Michigan, a postdoctoral research scientist and a graduate research and teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota, and a teaching assistant at Drake University in Iowa. He earned his bachelor's degree at Drake University and his doctorate at the University of Minnesota.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Nov. 13, 2001