California Professor of the Year Neil Garg, one of three national finalists for the prestigious Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, will present a free, public lecture titled “How Organic Chemistry Became One of UCLA’s Most Popular Classes.”
Garg’s lecture, which is part of the award process, will be delivered at 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6 in UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute auditorium.
“I really love teaching, so it is a tremendous honor to be named a finalist for the Cherry Award,” said Garg, professor of chemistry. “I hope my participation in the Cherry Award competition helps to place greater attention on STEM education. I am looking forward to my UCLA lecture and will do my best to represent the Bruins during my upcoming trip to Baylor University.”
Later in October, Garg will deliver a similar lecture at Baylor University, as will the other two national finalists for the award: Heidi Elmendorf, associate professor of biology at Georgetown University, and Clinton Longenecker, distinguished university professor of leadership at the University of Toledo. The award, given by Baylor University once every two years, honors outstanding professors who are inspiring teachers who make long-lasting impacts on students and a record of distinguished scholarship.
Robert Foster Cherry, who enrolled in the Baylor Law School in 1932, made a bequest in his estate to establish the Cherry Award program to recognize outstanding teachers and bring them in contact with Baylor University students.
Garg has been getting large numbers of UCLA students to love organic chemistry for years. Many of his students have said he is the best professor they have ever had and ever expect to have and that he has instilled in them a love of organic chemistry — a subject many students dread.
He has said the field of organic chemistry has made a tremendous mistake in not showing students and the general public the important impact it has on people’s lives. He employs creative and effective techniques in his teaching, including assigning his undergraduates an extra credit project in which they produce music videos about organic chemistry, and an assignment in which honors students make videos about careers that incorporate organic chemistry.
As a result of Garg’s innovative teaching techniques, he is able to present students with extraordinarily difficult concepts and problems, which his students can master and solve.
One of his recent teaching initiatives is a set of interactive online tutorials he has developed that combine real-life examples of organic chemistry, human health and popular culture — making organic chemistry relevant and important to students. Garg calls it BACON — Biology And Chemistry Online Notes — and he has made it available to professors and educators worldwide.
Garg shared his teaching secrets in this 20-minute TEDxUCLA talk.
Now Garg is reaching a younger demographic as well. He and his two daughters, Elaina, 10, and Kaylie, 5, have published the Organic Coloring Book to help children learn the wonders of organic chemistry.
The winner of the Cherry Award will receive a $250,000 prize and the winner’s academic department will receive $25,000. Each of the three finalists receives $15,000 and their university’s academic department each receives $10,000. The UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is creating an Education Innovation Fund, partly with the funds from Baylor University. If you wish to support the fund, you may donate here.
To attend Garg’s Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching finalist lecture people must RSVP. Attendees are encouraged to arrive before 12:55 p.m., at which time any remaining seats will be given to people who have not registered online.