Scott Kreher, assistant professor of biology, was selected by student vote as this year’s recipient of the Mother Evelyn Murphy Excellence in Teaching Award.
Mother Evelyn Murphy served as dean of Rosary College, now Dominican University, from 1928 to 1937, before becoming president of the college. Under her leadership, the college’s reputation for both academic rigor and social activism increased significantly. For more than 45 years, undergraduates have voted to select the Mother Evelyn Murphy Excellence in Teaching Award recipient.
It only took Kreher four years at Dominican to win the vote of his students.
“There are so many great professors here who have much more experience than I do, so winning the award was a nice, happy surprise,” Kreher said modestly. “I didn’t feel totally worthy of the award, because I’m still learning and growing as a teacher.”
"I think it’s important for students to have some independence and feel as though they can do the experiments on their own, so my job in the lab is to give them guidance without hovering over their shoulders."
Kreher believes that even the smallest organism can be a powerful tool to gain knowledge, which is why he has been studying the fruit fly for 13 years.
Kreher’s research is focused on the genetic basis of behavior. Particularly interested in the molecular, genetic and cellular basis of the sense of smell, he uses the fruit fly, Drosophilia melanogaster, as an experimental subject.
The fruit fly is a model organism used in genetics because of its tractability. It’s easy to grow and care for, and it breeds quickly and lays many eggs, according to Kreher. All organisms use common genetic systems, so being able to comprehend olfaction, or the sense of smell, in fruit flies can help in understanding how the process works in all animals, including humans.
“Based on the principles of evolution, many of the fundamental principles of how things work are the same or similar no matter what animal we’re talking about,” Kreher said.
As an undergraduate student at Truman State University in Missouri, Kreher found his passion for science. He went on to earn his doctorate in biology from Yale University. As a doctoral student, Kreher taught as a teaching assistant and found a new passion for the science of education. He enjoys the best of both worlds when his students work with him in the lab.
“It’s always gratifying to see students learn and become excited about concepts that I find really interesting and exciting," Kreher said.
Interested in understanding how odor receptor proteins underlie and enable the sensation of a smell, Kreher and many of his students have been involved in a multi-year project conducting behavioral experiments on fruit flies to test how they respond to different odors. This summer, the manuscript will be submitted for review with several of Kreher’s students as co-authors.
“I think it’s important for students to have some independence and feel as though they can do the experiments on their own, so my job in the lab is to give them guidance without hovering over their shoulders," Kreher said.
Kreher is working with a colleague at the University of Illinois on another field of research, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Biology, studying how students learn and understand science. Three of Kreher’s classes have participated in the study by taking surveys and engaging in experimental learning activities.
Kreher's approach to teaching is no different from any of his scientific explorations. Instead of making assumptions about what works and doesn’t work in the classroom, he tests strategies and collects data to come to those conclusions. That means his interactive, thought-provoking pedagogy is constantly evolving.
But Kreher always encourages his students to make discoveries by asking questions and generating evidence to answer those questions, both inside and outside the classroom.
“It’s a good professor's job to make students actually confront misconceptions and really think about why they believe what they believe and how they can come to better understanding through evidence and reason," Kreher said.
After working for Washington University and the University of Illinois in Urbana, Kreher brought his expertise to Dominican.
“I came to Dominican because I liked the intimacy of the campus, and I found the university’s mission [to aid in the creation of a more just and humane world] to be very important," Kreher said.