Charles E. Jones, Rick A. Relyea Are 2014 Bellet Award Winners
The University of Pittsburgh’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences has named Charles E. Jones, lecturer in the Department of Geology and Planetary Science, and Rick A. Relyea, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and director of the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology, winners of the 2014 Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award.
The Bellet Award recipients will be honored during a by-invitation-only reception and dinner on March 26 at Pitt’s University Club.
The Bellet Awards were established in 1998 and endowed in 2008 with a $1.5 million gift from Dietrich School alumnus David Bellet (A&S ’67) and his wife, Tina, to recognize outstanding and innovative undergraduate teaching in the Dietrich School. A Dietrich School committee evaluates teaching skills based on student teaching and peer evaluations, student testimonials, and dossiers submitted by the nominees. Full-time faculty members who have taught in the Dietrich School during the past three years are eligible. Each award recipient receives $5,000.
Jones teaches introductory and advanced geology courses and serves as an undergraduate advisor. He is known for his enthusiasm and passion for geology—and for creating classes that encourage interactive learning both in and out of the classroom. He teaches a demanding load of courses and organizes five field trips a year, two of which require sleeping in tents, and all of which involve managing 30 to 60 students in the wind, rain, and sometimes freezing temperatures.
“Frankly, his enthusiasm is contagious and is especially apparent during field trips where he is typically bubbling over with information about rock types, what environments they formed in, how they were altered over time, and how they came to be where the class found them,” wrote Mark Abbott, professor and chair, Department of Geology and Planetary Science, in a letter supporting Jones’ candidacy for the Bellet Award.
Jones, who wants students to make professional connections as well, often takes students with him to monthly Pittsburgh Geological Society meetings so the undergraduates can meet working geologists. He has created or reworked seven museum-style displays within the geology department. He coauthored the Laboratory Manual for Physical Geography (McGraw-Hill, 2012).
A Rhodes Scholar, Jones earned a PhD in geology at Oxford University and a bachelor of science in geology from Stanford University. He has previously served on Rhodes Scholar selection committees for several states. He now uses that experience to help Pitt’s Rhodes and Marshall Scholar candidates prepare for their interviews. Prior to joining Pitt in 2000, he was an assistant professor of geology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan.
Relyea is a biological sciences professor and researcher whose teaching method has evolved from lecturing behind a podium to using the Socratic method to teach his undergraduate Animal Behavior class. Radically, students are asked not to take notes so they can focus on forming—and discarding— multiple hypotheses about how a certain behavior might have evolved. They interpret real data and are encouraged to process and solve scientific questions rather than memorizing a set of facts.
“Professor Relyea is a natural teacher who has the remarkable ability to explain the most complex scientific principles in terms that can be readily understood, and appreciated, by his audience. He is a delight to watch as he explains his study of diverse aquatic ecosystems with regard to ecotoxicology ecology, evolution, and animal behavior,” wrote Paula Grabowski, professor and chair, Pitt’s Department of Biological Sciences, in her letter supporting Relyea’s nomination.
As director of the Pymatuning Lab, Relyea oversees a field-research station that includes classrooms, a library, residence hall and dining facilities, and field plots for researchers who study ecology and evolutionary biology. Relyea has secured grants to improve the lab’s facilities and to support summer research experiences for undergraduates and high school teachers. He has expanded the number from four to 10 of Pennsylvania universities using the lab through a statewide Educational Consortium—and has more than doubled the Pitt undergraduate enrollment in the lab’s courses.
Relyea, who also teaches graduate and PhD students, was chosen for Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s Distinguished Researcher Award in 2005. He has coauthored several undergraduate and college textbooks. He joined the University in 1999 as an assistant professor, becoming director of the Pymatuning Lab in 2007. He earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental and forest biology from State University of New York, Syracuse; a master’s degree in wildlife science from Texas Tech University; and a PhD in biology from the University of Michigan.