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Chemistry faculty member receives Career Excellence in Teaching Award

| Olivia Jeske

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's third annual College of Arts and Sciences Career Excellence in Teaching Award was presented to Dr. James Phillips, professor of chemistry. He received an award of $1,000 award at the opening of the 2013-14 academic year.

"It is an honor, mainly because of the tremendous colleagues I have throughout the college," Phillips said. "Simply put, we have great faculty at UW-Eau Claire. I have learned a great deal from them, especially from my colleagues here in chemistry, but in other programs across the college as well."

The award was created by the UW-Eau Claire Foundation through the generosity of an individual donor who wished to remain anonymous. The intent is to recognize one member of the faculty or instructional academic staff each year for a careerlong history of excellence in teaching.

Dr. Marc McEllistrem, associate professor of chemistry and academic program director for the Materials Science Center, nominated Phillips for the award. He noted that one of Phillips' courses, "Physical Chemistry," is often considered the most disliked course in the major.

"As such, it is not an easy class to teach, as upperclassmen tell their more junior peers horror stories of all-night problem sessions (which do, in fact, take place)." McEllistrem said. "It is with some amazement, then, that I learned how much our students enjoyed Jim's courses in 'Pchem,' in part because he has worked hard to place the material in context and to motivate its learning."

During his time at UW-Eau Claire, Phillips revived existing chemistry courses to include lab modules and improved instrumentation. He also has developed new classes in the areas of environmental chemistry and the connection between chemistry and the climate.

Phillips also maintains a federally funded research program that involves three or four students at any given time. The program is intended to help students build key skills and operate equipment that they would not normally use in their studies.

"We work hard on their communication skills, both in terms of preparing conference presentations and manuscript writing," Phillips said. "These opportunities require the student to craft a 'story' about their project and learn to tell it."

Phillips has long been a proponent of cross-discipline studies, even before the development of university course "bundles."

"I have developed three liberal arts-based environmental chemistry courses, and in these I have established interdisciplinary teaching collaborations with colleagues in programs outside the sciences (my primary collaborators have been Dr. Eric Jamelske in economics and Dr. Sean McAleer in philosophy and religious studies)," Phillips said. "We exemplified the connection between a liberal education and real world issues like global climate change."

McEllistrem said that no matter the activity, Phillips has always been focused on the impact on the students.

"Jim's professional activities in the past 15 years have been first and foremost to provide the best possible learning environment for our students, regardless of the 'arena' in which he has worked," he said.

For more information about the Career Excellence in Teaching Award, contact the UW-Eau Claire Foundation at