Georgia's Professor of the Year teaches at Columbus State

Mike Haskey 
 Kimberly Shaw, professor of physics and co-director of UTeach Columbus at Columbus State University, was named as the 2015 Georgia Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, 12/07/15
Mike Haskey Kimberly Shaw, professor of physics and co-director of UTeach Columbus at Columbus State University, was named as the 2015 Georgia Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, 12/07/15

Chloe Chambers insists she wouldn't be on track to become a science teacher if it weren't for Columbus State University physicist Kimberly Shaw's encouraging guidance.

When the coursework has overwhelmed her confidence, Chambers, a senior earth and space science secondary education major from Molena, Ga., has relied on Shaw's advice for clarity -- and the professor's coveted crème de menthe cake and pralines for comfort.

"I've wanted to change my major because of how frustrated I was, but she has motivated me so much to stay in this field and to stick with it," said Chambers, 21. " . Just having that motivation when you feel like giving up is the best thing that students can ask for in these classes.

"Not a lot of professors give that to their students. They just give them the answers, and the students still struggle and they never learn anything. But because of her, you actually learn something, and you're motivated to learn more."

No wonder the Council for Advancement and Support of Education selected Shaw as its 2015 Georgia Professor of the Year. It's the first time a CSU faculty member has received the association's most prestigious award for undergraduate teaching.

CASE honored Shaw along with its other state and national award winners during its 35th annual program last month in Washington, D.C. The recognition came one month after the Southeastern Association for Science Teacher Education presented her with the 2015 Rod Nave Award, named after the Georgia State University physics professor who designated classes for science teachers to learn the latest technologies.

Chambers shared her testimony about Shaw's positive impact during an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer in Shaw's research methods class Monday. Hearing such a tribute, Shaw said, "means the world to me."

Then she turned to Chambers to teach another lesson: "You have to remember that when you have your own classroom. Some of your students are going to be struggling. But by knowing that, you'll know better how to help them."

That's because, Shaw contends, struggling is part of learning.

"Everybody struggles to learn math and science," she said. "Even the most talented people, somewhere along the way, they struggle. The question is: How can I best support those students so they become all they can be?"

It starts with listening, which Shaw does expertly well, said Susan Hrach, director of CSU's Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, who nominated Shaw for the CASE award.

"Kim is more interested in listening to students than hearing herself," Hrach said in a phone interview. "She's a quiet person. So when people think of star teachers, they think of someone who's the center of attention and charismatic. But Kim is such a successful teacher because she puts the focus on the learners. She does great work with collaboration among students in the classroom and helps them share what they know and construct their own knowledge."

Shaw, an 18-year educator, teaches introductory-level physics, honors enrichment, interdisciplinary physical science and research methods courses. She is co-director with Deborah Gober for UTeach Columbus, which this year is helping about 85 CSU students earn a degree in biology, chemistry, earth and space science or math and qualify to teach in middle school or high school after passing the appropriate state certification exams.

Harris County High School science teacher Timothy Jones, one of Shaw's former students, said in a news release, "Her impact on my life is, without a doubt, substantial. She makes the material easier to understand by using neat demonstrations and effectively breaks down the material. In fact, there is an ongoing joke between my classmates about how garden gnomes were used to explain electricity. She used a princess blanket she borrowed from her daughter's room and explained the concept of gravity. Little things like that allowed me to make better connections in physics and helped me understand it at a much deeper level."

Beyond her individual awards, Shaw has benefited CSU this year by also receiving a Complete Georgia STEM Innovation grant to develop a faculty learning community that supports "flipped classroom" teaching methods to improve student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math. Flipped classrooms reverse the traditional education model. Students view videos of the teacher's lecture at home and spend class time on discussions, short-term activities and long-term projects.

"Kim has racked up over the past several years at least a half dozen major experiences that have caused positive ripple effects across campus, from winning grants that have brought in funding, to running programs like UTeach, to leading faculty learning communities," Hrach said. " She just takes the lead all the time in doing things not just affecting her classroom but lots of others as well."

Shaw's research tends to concentrate on boosting women and minorities, who are under-represented in math and science fields.

"They come with different goals sometimes, and sometimes they come with different experiences," she said. "That doesn't mean they're any less interested or any less talented. So what I want as a scientist is to see anybody who's talented and interested have the chance to succeed. And I don't want the college classroom or the high school classroom to be a place that says 'you don't belong' or that tells people 'just because you're struggling, you shouldn't be here.'"

Shaw earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Vanderbilt University in 1991, then a master's degree in physics in 1993 and a doctorate in experimental condensed matter physics in 1997 from Florida State University. She is a member of the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the National Science Teachers Association and the Association for Women in Science.

After teaching at Florida State (1991-97) and Southern Illinois University (1997-2007), Shaw sought the position at CSU in 2007 to live closer to her sister in LaGrange.

"I love teaching here," Shaw said. "I love working with my colleagues. A lot of them inspire me to always do better."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.