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2010 George Barbour Award for Good Faculty-Student Relations: David Fankhauser

David Fankhauser's passionate approach to things in life carries over to his approach to teaching, making him a favorite with students at UC Clermont.

Date: 5/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
By: Mae Hanna
Phone: (513) 732-5332
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot   David Fankhauser, professor of Biology and Chemistry at UC Clermont, is the 2010 recipient of the George Barbour Award for Good Faculty-Student Relations. He has always been passionate about the principles of equal rights, an earth-friendly lifestyle and education. As a scholar, Freedom Rider, environmental activist, global citizen, and as an artist and student advocate, his passion permeates everything he does. 

Over the years, his goal has been to excite students in his labs with hands-on relevant learning experiences. These include tapping maple trees on campus to make syrup, testing the bacteria in iced tea from local restaurants and in the water from creeks in students’ backyards. Students have also analyzed their own genetic make-up using polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
David Fankhauser
David Fankhauser

Dr. Fankhauser reveals some of the factors in his background that influenced his approach to teaching. “Late in my graduate studies in biology, I became dissatisfied with the remote, unconnected manner in which many classes were presented in the academic classroom. The material seemed to have little to do with real life. In the late 1960’s my wife, Jill (a fellow graduate student) and I were eager to follow a healthful lifestyle and to learn as much as we could of the practical arts and understand their underlying scientific principles.”  In 1971, the Fankhausers, seeking self sufficiency, moved “back to the land” to their ‘farmette’ in Clermont County. They were eager to apply the 1960’s ideals of reducing their negative impact on the environment: Producing their own food without the use of poisonous herbicides and pesticides, for example, is good for health in providing nutrition for preventive medicine, gives us exercise, and conserves living and non-living resources.  

In 1973, he learned that UC Clermont College –after one year of operation – was looking for a biology professor. “Flush with ideas of how to make teaching relevant, engaging and enriching to the lives of students, I met with Clermont’s then-dean, Edith Peters. The semi-rural setting, the small classes, and the opportunity to establish a biology curriculum from scratch were blessings which allowed me to test my unorthodox ideals of what might constitute effective teaching,” said Fankhauser. He began teaching at UC Clermont College in 1973 as the only biologist.

He believes that a professor should do more than teach in the classroom. “When a person accepts a professorship, they commit to devoting a significant amount of time to being with students outside of class as well as in it. It is one of the several major advantages of teaching at a relatively small institution with small class sizes. You get to know the students personally.”

Jordan Howard, a graduate student, who describes the two classes that he took from Fankhauser as the “most challenging and engaging of his undergraduate career” says that “Dr. Fankhauser is one of the best, if not the best, professors that I have ever had the privilege to learn from. No matter what degrees I earn, what intelligence I accrue, or what I achieve in my career, I will forever be his student.”

Fankhauser approaches the college’s mission as an open-access institution as a form of social service. “Open-access colleges accept all students, regardless of where they are in their educational career. To teach under these circumstances is a form of social service.  Don’t we all believe that education is one of the best doors out of the economic morass which traps so many?”

Dr. Fankhauser’s life has been committed to equity in society and is rooted in his early college days when he risked his life to board a bus in Montgomery, Ala., headed towards Jackson, Miss., to demonstrate with other Freedom Riders the civil injustice taking place there and challenge Southern transportation segregation laws.

The Freedom Riders were champions of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing racial segregation of interstate travel. He was recently highlighted in Eric Etheridge’s book Breach of Peace which features current portraits of more than 80 of the Freedom Riders arrested in Jackson in 1961, plus police mug shots of all 300-plus Riders. Fankhauser was also featured in "Many Currents Make a River," a documentary that offers a historical perspective on the recent election of our country’s first African American President.

“Students are particularly interested to hear that I participated in strategy meetings with Dr. Martin Luther King and stayed in the home of his constant companion, Dr. Ralph Abernathy,” said Fankhauser who has made presentations for decades on his civil rights experiences.

One of the many ways he strives for student engagement in the classroom is to focus on heightening each student’s sensitivity to social and environmental issues by connecting biological principles with daily news and personal experience. 

“Throughout annual events such as International Education Week, Professor Fankhauser has demonstrated an unmatched sensitivity to the individual differences and to multicultural needs of students and community members at large,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Bozena Widanski.     
Many of his students have stayed connected to him since 1973. “One of the joys of teaching is to have students return in later years with compliments about your classes and to ask for advice and recommendations for their future career path. I delight in these visits and continue to mentor former students and have written countless letters of recommendation,” said Fankhauser.
David Fankhauser

One graduate of his classes describes him as a “world-class educator who has a passion for what he preaches…providing a cutting-edge educational experience.” 

Fankhauser is a former A.B. “Dolly” Cohen Award recipient (1989) and more recently was awarded The Johns Hopkins University's Distinguished Alumnus of the Year (2009). He earned his B.A. in chemistry from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., and his doctorate in biology from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

He recently hosted his 35th annual waffle and maple syrup breakfast, an activity which has become a traditional “ritual of spring” for current and former students, faculty and staff at UC Clermont College, and the community at large.
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