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Avila biology professor honored for meritorious teaching


August 2, 2011
For more information, contact Bob Luder at 816.501.2434.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo - - Avila biology professor Robert Powell has been awarded the Meritorious Teaching Award in Herpetology in honor of his years of guiding undergraduate students in the study of amphibians and reptiles.

The award is sponsored by the American Society of Ichthyologists & Herpetologists, The Herpetologists' League and the Society for the Study of Amphibians & Reptiles and recognizes superior teaching effectiveness, mentoring of students and significant contributions to herpetological education. This was the second year in which the award was bestowed.

The award was presented at the Joint Meetings of Ichthyologists & Herpetologists, held July 6-11 in Minneapolis, Minn. Unfortunately, because of health reasons, Powell was unable to attend and accept his award in person, but Matthew Gifford, PhD. and assistant professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock – and a former student of Powell's at Avila – accepted the award on Powell's behalf. He'll pass it along to Powell when the two meet in the British Virgin Islands in October during a research trip.

Nominations are submitted by students, colleagues or a combination of both. In Powell's case, Alicia Mathis, chairperson of the biology department at Missouri State University, initiated the nomination, and Bob Henderson, curator of vertebrates at the Milwaukee Public Museum, and Avila alums Gifford and Rodney Wittenberg, who works for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, wrote letters of support.

What made Powell most proud, he said, was that he was selected for this award despite working primarily with undergraduate students.

"These professional societies usually focus on graduate students and graduate work," Powell said. "I wasn't sure they'd take my nomination seriously because of that. But, they took the undergrad thing to heart. That's the neatest thing about it."

In addition to his work at Avila, in the classroom, lab and field, Bob has directed 10 National Science Foundation-funded research programs for undergraduates. Participating students from all over the nation conduct investigations of amphibians and reptiles on West Indian islands. Of Bob's hundreds of scientific publications, more than 180 dating back to 1980, are with undergraduate co-authors, and undergraduates have published another 22 publications with Bob's guidance.

"Bob's contributions to undergraduate education in herpetology are unmatched," Gifford wrote in his letter of support to the Herpetology Education Committee. "This is most exemplified by the success of his (research experience for undergraduate) program, Natural History of a West Indian Herpetofauna. (The National Science Foundation) has supported this program for nearly 20 years, a degree of success that should be envied by all scientists seeking funding from this organization."

In fact, Powell said, of all the accolades he's received during his time in the classroom, laboratory and field, this honor probably ranks above all else, even the inaugural Avila Distinguished Scholar award he received in 2007.

"Absolutely, this is pretty cool," he said. "When I think of all the people who've been around a while, and to get this before them … .

"It's a crowning achievement."



Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.