The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education has named Edward H. “Jed” Burtt Jr. of Ohio Wesleyan University as the 2011 Ohio Professor of the Year. The two prestigious higher education organizations bestow the award “to honor the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country – those who excel as teachers and influence the lives and careers of their students.”
Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D., said Burtt, a zoology professor at the university since 1977, is a perfect choice to receive the Ohio Professor of the Year Award.
“Jed says his mission is to help students grow into ‘mature citizen-scholars,’ and he does it with an uncommon combination of warmth, high expectations, and passion,” Jones said. “He fully exemplifies the qualities required for Professor of the Year. He changes lives every day – and at Ohio Wesleyan, we have the privilege of watching him do it.”
Burtt’s current and former students agree. Many seek him out while still in high school because of his reputation among birding enthusiasts as an accomplished ornithologist, professor, and mentor.
Sean Williams, a 2011 Ohio Wesleyan graduate, is one such student. In supporting Burtt’s nomination for U.S. Professor of the Year, Williams told reviewers: “I write for the dozens of successful men and women when I say that he is the single most inspiring, effective, and dedicated professor we have encountered. We exclaim in harmony our support for this nomination.”
With Burtt’s mentorship and support, Williams was selected while an Ohio Wesleyan undergraduate to receive a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Williams also was awarded a University Enrichment Fellowship from Michigan State University, where he is pursuing his doctorate. Fewer than 5 percent of accepted Michigan State graduates receive this fellowship.
Burtt also served as a mentor to 2011 Ohio Wesleyan graduate Kristin Lear, who was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in April to use her research skills in Australia to develop a conservation plan for the critically endangered Southern Bent-wing Bat. Lear is spending a year living and working in Naracoorte Caves National Park in South Australia.
Burtt said watching students such as Williams and Lear succeed in their professional and personal lives motivates and inspires him.
“The most exciting part of teaching is working one-on-one to help each student fulfill her or his special potential,” he said. “As a friend, colleague, and mentor, I can share my values by living them and sometimes by speaking of them when consulted by a student dealing with a difficult situation. I hope that I convey to all students my passion for the birds I love, the science that provides me with boundless excitement, and the privilege I feel in becoming a trusted confidant in their lives.
“Awakening a passion in a young person and helping each student fulfill a newly formulated dream is the essence of teaching,” Burtt said. “There is no higher calling, no greater purpose in life.”
During his career, Burtt has delivered 115 presentations at national and international scientific meetings, including presentations with 53 different undergraduate students. He has received 16 research grants totaling more than $3 million, which helped to provide research stipends to 89 students. He has been awarded two patents and three equipment grants totaling approximately $800,000, which helped Ohio Wesleyan to purchase its original scanning electron microscope and its new replacement scanning transmission electron microscope. He has written four books, 54 research papers with 26 different student co-authors, and three papers on teaching methodology with four different student co-authors.
Burtt has been awarded honorary life memberships in the Association of Field Ornithologists and Wilson Ornithological Society. He also has been elected as a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, American Ornithologists’ Union, Ohio Academy of Sciences, and the International Ornithologists’ Union. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and master’s and doctoral degrees in zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Photo: Jed Burtt, by Pam Burtt