Caitilyn Allen, professor of plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison is the 2005 recipient of The American Phytopathological Society Excellence in Teaching Award. Professor Allen earned her Ph.D. in plant pathology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1987 and joined the faculty at UW in 1992. In addition to her appointment in the Department of Plant Pathology, Professor Allen has an appointment in the UW Women’s Studies Program. She is unusual, perhaps unique, in her proven ability to integrate disciplines in the classroom by bringing her scholarly activities in biology and the social sciences to bear on each other. Her superb teaching for majors and nonmajors, for undergraduate and graduate students, and both in and out of the classroom make Allen an exceptional member of APS and worthy of the society’s teaching award.
In Professor Allen’s classroom, three themes emerge. First, she integrates across disciplines—biology with social sciences, applied agriculture with basic biology. Second, she is creative and innovative, using teaching techniques that actively involve students in evaluating science. Since every cohort of students is unique, she constantly adjusts and evaluates to find the best fit between her methods and her students. Third, she has the magic of a great teacher. She is facile with language, has incisive intuition about learning and students’ needs, is responsive to student feedback, and is flexible enough to do a midcourse correction if necessary. She has the knack of impeccable timing, introducing humor, questions, challenges, and debates at just the right moment to facilitate learning, keep the interest of her students, and maintain a rigorous, congenial classroom community. Her magic is enhanced by her sharp intellect and composure. She is simply a compelling person who draws scientists and nonscientists alike to listen to her, interact with her, and learn from her.
Professor Allen brings rigorous science to “Plants, Parasites, and People,” an undergraduate course for nonmajors. Here she uses plants and microbes to teach the scientific method and experimental design. She emphasizes the role of plant diseases in
Upper-level undergraduate and graduate students praise Allen’s enthusiasm and ability to communicate difficult concepts clearly in the courses “Plant–Microbe Interactions” and “Plant–Bacterial Interactions.” They appreciate her accessibility and believe that this reflects her genuine interest in their well-being. In her upperlevel undergraduate course, “Biology and Gender,” students learn to debunk myths, separate prejudice from principle, and evaluate scientific studies with confidence. Many of these students eventually work in social sciences, law, or politics—fields in which understanding biology, biotechnology, and the scientific underpinnings of bioterrorism has never been more important than it is now. One student remarked, “This class changed the way I think. I am now much more critical of science news I hear in the media, and I am no longer intimidated by scientific readings.” Her numerical ratings in this course are well above the averages for the Women’s Studies Program, a program noted for its extraordinary teachers.
Allen’s outstanding teaching is recognized and admired by her colleagues at the UW and from other institutions. In 1998, as an assistant professor, she received a prestigious UW Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor usually reserved for more seasoned faculty. She is a much sought after speaker on teaching and mentoring, having given 29 presentations throughout the state and nation, as well as dozens of presentations to schoolchildren and the local media. She teaches others how to use ethics, writing, and group discussion in the teaching of biology. Colleagues attend her classes to get new ideas for their own teaching.
Allen’s teaching is not bound by classroom walls or by the safety of what has proven successful. Most noteworthy is her success in directing the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Residential Program, an award-winning and nationally recognized mentoring program for college freshmen and sophomores. This challenging task had foiled other successful biology teachers on campus. However, Allen set up special sections of science courses (after numerous deans declared that “it can’t be done”), organized cultural events, and taught a seminar course for the residents. The WISE program was funded largely through grants obtained by Allen and a college dean.
In the areas of service and outreach, Caitilyn Allen has been exemplary, especially in matters related to teaching and mentoring. She has served on and chaired the Department of Plant Pathology’s Curriculum and Academic Affairs committees. In the latter post, she revamped the department’s graduate recruiting efforts, injecting the process with rigor and creativity. At the campus level, her efforts earned her the Provost’s Research-Service Award in 2000. Seventy participants benefited from the 1-day graduate teaching symposium she organized in 2001 in conjunction with the 10th International Congress of the International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions. She then wrote a chapter on teaching molecular aspects of plant pathology, which is published in the proceedings from that conference. In 2003, she garnered funds and organized a workshop focused on developing U.S.-African training and research collaborations. Allen’s internationally recognized research program on the molecular genetics of virulence in
We agree with the undergraduate who opined, “Professor Allen is what a professor should be on this campus.” Indeed, APS is privileged to have this superb teacher and dedicated scholar educating both the future professionals in our discipline as well as the citizens who depend on our discipline without realizing it.