Ronald “Aaron” Garner, associate teach professor of chemistry, has been honored with the 2020 C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society. Instituted in 1972 and named in honor of Clarence I. Noll, dean of the college from 1965 to 1971, the award is the highest honor for undergraduate teaching in the college. Students, faculty members, and alumni nominate outstanding faculty members who best exemplify the key characteristics of a Penn State educator, and a committee of students selects the award winners from the group of nominees.
Garner teaches using engaging and adaptable curriculum that is consistent with scientific research in education while establishing a welcoming and inclusive climate that promotes learning.
“Dr. Garner constantly goes above and beyond to meet the needs of students, often sacrificing one's own time beyond what is expected,” said one of Garner’s students. “Every semester, he attempts to learn the name of every student taking the course. I felt that this was effective at making students feel more comfortable asking him questions. Before an exam, he also extends his office hours in calibration to the student demand.”
Peers of Garner also commend him for actively innovating teaching pedagogy. His introduction of new concepts begins with reading that prepares students for lecture, uses variation in clicker questions to allow students to gain comprehensive understanding, and concludes with a take-home exam that focuses on key concepts. Notably, Garner has designed and organized lectures that connect textbook topics to daily life. He explained that contextualization of course content is an important element of his teaching and students agree.
“Dr. Garner is unlike any science professor I have experienced at Penn State. He takes his time describing these concepts and breaks them down into an easy-to-follow way,” said one of Garner’s students. “Thanks to Dr. Garner and his teaching style and the effort he puts in to ensure that his students understand this content, I never leave his class feeling stressed or overwhelmed. I hope that there are more professors out there like him.”
Garner joined Penn State as an assistant teaching professor in 2016 and was promoted to associate teaching professor in 2020. He is currently also the assistant head for Ethics in the Undergraduate Curriculum. Prior to that, he was part of the teaching faculty in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. He earned a doctoral degree in chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University in 2014, and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biological sciences, and botany at North Carolina State University in 2008.