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The Evolution of Teaching Excellence - James Krupa

By Sarah Geegan

Biology professor James Krupa recently received his second major accolade from the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) in the past two years. After taking home the NABT University Teaching Award last year, Krupa received the Evolution Education Award for 2012 — crediting famous UK alumnus John T. Scopes for much of his inspiration.

The award recognizes innovative classroom teaching and community education efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution. Sponsored by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) and National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), the honor will be officially presented to Krupa at the NABT annual Professional Development Conference in Dallas, Texas.

"Winning both NABT awards back to back, let alone either at all, was a shock and a surprise," Krupa said. "I’m so pleased NABT sees value in what I teach and how I teach."

Krupa began teaching biology at UK in 1995.  Since then, he has given more than 80 public presentations on evolution.

"From a historical perspective, it is also amazing that I ended up here because the first (unsuccessful) effort to pass anti-evolution laws, led by William Jennings Bryan, was in Kentucky in 1921," Krupa said. "At the time, John Thomas Scopes was a student at UK watching the efforts of his three favorite teachers: Funkhouser, Miller, and Terrell. The reason the Scopes Trial occurred is in part due to inspiration by these great teachers."

Scopes' trial, the landmark court case in Dayton, Tenn., was the first effort to overthrow a state’s anti-evolution law in 1925. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution, and this decision was later thrown out on a technicality. Krupa said that he considers the nearly century-old case as motivation to provide exemplary teaching.

"When I reread Scopes’ memoir, "Center of the Storm," from 1967, I am reminded why we must always try to be the best teachers we can," Krupa said. "We may have a future John Scopes taking our classes."

Krupa said he will continue to design his classes using evolution as a foundation from which other material stems.

"I am convinced that my rapport with students and their retention of the central lessons are both maximized when I am most passionately engaged in relating my best stories," Krupa said.

This latest accolade will add to Krupa's lengthening list of awards: among other teaching honors, Krupa won UK's College of Arts & Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award in 2007; UK's Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2002; the Kentucky Academy of Science Outstanding Teacher Award in 2001; and the UK Alumni Association Great Teacher Award in 1999.

"I think it is great that the NABT has an award for teaching evolution," Krupa said. "It is such an important subject of biology that we must be encouraged to teach it as well as possible in every high school and college biology class."