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A Passion for Teaching


Liesa Ann Weber-Frutchey, Bonny Tighe, Dr. Jeff Leips, and Catherine Weber

Teachers -- for all they do -- so often fly under the radar, inspiring students to succeed while taking little credit for themselves.

The late UMBC biology faculty member, Carl Weber, was one of those teachers. His legacy, however, will ensure that excellence in teaching at UMBC will be recognized and nurtured—in part through a yearly award in his name that is given to outstanding faculty at UMBC. This year’s winner of the 2010 Carl Weber Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching Award was Dr. Jeff Leips, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the Department of Biological Sciences.

"It is an honor to be compared to someone who was so well respected as a teacher," said Dr. Leips.

The award was established in 2006 by his family in memory of Dr. Weber, Assistant Professor Emeritus and founding faculty member in the UMBC Department of Biological Sciences, as a tribute to his passion for classroom teaching. It honors a faculty member from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics for exceptional dedication to teaching as demonstrated by his or her enthusiasm, up-to-date teaching materials, effective mentoring, community service in the teaching area, approachability, rigorous learning requirements, coherent teaching philosophy and inspirational teaching style.

At a recent lunch with members of the Weber family and a few colleagues of Dr Weber, Leips, inaugural award winner Bonny Tighe (senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics), Dr. Weber's wife, Catherine, explained that the professor was not one to call attention to himself. In fact, the very thought of creating an award in his honor might have made him embarrassed.

"He was the kind of person who shared who he was quite willingly," said Mrs. Weber. "And if he saw everyone here at the table today, he'd probably be hugging them and laughing...and wanting to move on to something else."

Together, the group shared memories of Dr. Weber, from his love of classical and folk music, to his evolving passion for ecology, and to his many trips to streams in the Baltimore area doing insect larvae assays.

"He had that kind of mind, in which something went in, and then everything just...stayed," said Mrs. Weber. "If he was interested in something, he would just jump in."

"He was a pretty cool guy," said Liesa Ann Weber-Frutchey, Dr. Weber's daughter, a dance instructor, who spent many hours in the biology department as a child, often learning from her father and other professors as she played. "I used to catch butterflies and insects and then I learned how to preserve them...it was bonding time with my dad."

Dr. Leips seems to have followed in Dr. Weber's footsteps, in a way, teaching the ecology section of UMBC’s Ecology and Evolution course. He has also worked with his colleagues to design a new advanced course in evolution (Evolution: From Genes to Genomes) and has developed a new course for graduate students, Mentoring in the Sciences.

"It's a beautiful thing to honor someone's legacy through teaching," said Dr. Leips, who has several of Dr. Weber's old textbooks on his own shelves. "Plus, he was a wonderful guy, so this is really special."

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