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April 12, 2013

Murphy Award winner: Peter Hollenbeck

Peter Hollenbeck

Peter Hollenbeck, professor of biological sciences, is a recipient of the 2013 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Awards in Memory of Charles B. Murphy. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Six exceptional teachers have been selected as recipients of the 2013 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Awards in Memory of Charles B. Murphy. This week, Purdue Today will feature a profile on each of the recipients. Today, we focus on Peter Hollenbeck, professor of biological sciences and associate department head for research and graduate education.

The incredible amount of time and energy Peter Hollenbeck puts into his students can be explained with one simple reason: He truly enjoys spending time with young adults.

Hollenbeck's teaching responsibilities involve two classes and more than 450 students each year. In the fall, he teaches a sophomore-level biology course that all College of Science students must take. In the spring, he teaches a senior-level neuroscience seminar that includes seven or eight students. He juggles these responsibilities in addition to his duties as an associate department head.

The vast difference in his courses' capacity is an opportunity, Hollenbeck says, to affect students -- and to improve his teaching techniques -- on a large and small scale.

"Teaching a really large class and a really small one gives me the opportunity to help shape a lot students' science education really early on while also letting me teach our seniors on a one-to-one basis," Hollenbeck says.

"Having contact with so many students means I have to really love doing this -- and I do. I really enjoy being around young people. I love the energy and curiosity they bring to the University, and I love being able to teach them how to use the language of science and how to think deeply in all aspects of their lives."

When teaching his large-capacity class, Hollenbeck strives to keep his students' attention, which he says is key to ensuring their academic success. For example, he takes a few minutes every Friday to go through his lecture hall's lost and found, which can contain some bizarre and often funny items.

Hollenbeck also provides a plethora of online material for his large-capacity class. It includes audio files of his lectures, lecture notes, old exams, relevant problems and links to other online materials. Each year, Hollenbeck updates this material as necessary.

He also makes himself available all day to answer questions via email, he says. This is just one way that Hollenbeck Hollenbeck puts his students first when they need him.

"Research is important, but it all becomes obsolete eventually," Hollenbeck says. "On the other hand, if you have a significant influence on as many students as you can, that's going to carry forward -- your students will remember your influence, and maybe they will impart it to their students.

"It can be hard to measure your influence on a student while you're teaching them, but 10 or 20 years down the line, when they say you had a positive influence on them -- well, to me, that's as good as it gets."

Writer: Amanda Hamon, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu