Rowan presents Lindback Award to physics prof Karen Magee-Sauer


Though Rowan University professor Karen Magee-Sauer loves astronomy, no one ever accuses her of having her head in the clouds when it comes to educating students about the subject.

Indeed, she's qu

Though Rowan University professor Karen Magee-Sauer loves astronomy, no one ever accuses her of having her head in the clouds when it comes to educating students about the subject.

Indeed, she's quite grounded in her approach to teaching astronomy and other areas of physics, an approach that has earned her the 2007 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award, which will be presented during the University's convocation ceremony on Monday, September 10. Funded by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation, the $4,000 teaching award recognizes a full-time, permanent faculty member for outstanding teaching and leadership.

"The best part of my day is when I'm in class teaching," said Magee-Sauer, of Boothwyn, Pa. "After nearly 20 years of teaching, I continue to find the challenge of discovering 'what works' in teaching science to be extremely rewarding."

"Unfortunately, there is no secret mix of what works helping students learn," she added. "What I do know is that the 100-percent traditional lecture is not an effective method of teaching any student, and I avoid it. If I lecture or do a demonstration, I am the one who is doing the science. I want the students to be doing the science."

Magee-Sauer said that throughout the years she has developed ways to teach that address students' various learning styles, from those who learn best by reviewing concrete facts to those who tackle the subject better conducting hands-on experiments.

"However, I have found that the most important piece of the puzzle is to set high expectations and make sure I am there for all students to help them realize these expectations," she noted.

Her student assessments indicate that she does just that. Noted one student in an evaluation of the professor that was considered in the Lindback selection process, "I am so grateful that I took this class. I learned so much and I appreciate my new knowledge. I was challenged & I proved to myself I could do it. Such a great professor. I felt like she truly cared about my well being even in other classes besides this."

Magee-Sauer, who earned her B.S. in physics from the University of Virginia and M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, started early in her career pursuing professional development activities that would help her be the best professor possible.

In addition to being an educator, Magee-Sauer is an active researcher in the field of planetary science, with a focus on comets. The National Science Foundation and National Aeronautics and Space Administration have supported her research, and she collaborates with scientists at the Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She primarily studies the composition and behavior of comets by observing the infrared emission of cometary molecules, and her group uses the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the W.M. Keck telescope, both atop 14,000-foot high Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Magee-Sauer facilitates her students' learning experience by involving them in her work. Each year, from one to five undergraduate students are able to assist her with her NSF-sponsored research, an opportunity usually reserved for graduate students at the most prestigious planetary science programs in the country. As part of the research, students have a chance to land a paid research position that helps them enhance their skills and pave the way for graduate school or industry positions.

Magee-Sauer's overall approach to teaching and working with students led Rowan physics professor Dr. Sam Lofland to nominate her for the Lindback Award. Said Lofland, "I've had numerous occasions to observe Karen in and outside the classroom. She is dedicated to ensuring that students of all levels and abilities succeed ? she not only gives students the tools to excel, she motivates them to do so. Students who take her classes come away with an in-depth understanding of physics and astronomy as well as skills to help them throughout their academic careers and beyond. She is truly an outstanding educator."

"I am quite honored to have received this award from my peers and would like to thank the faculty, staff and, most of all, students who make Rowan University such a wonderful place to teach and learn," said Magee-Sauer, who is married and the mother of two daughters, Kirsten, 18, and Bridget, 16. Magee-Sauer will donate part of her $4,000 award to support Liberal Studies Math/Science students who would like to conduct science education research.