David Polcyn, a professor of biology who has taught at Cal State San Bernardino since 1988, has been named the recipient of the 2016-17 Golden Apple award, the university’s highest award for teaching.
News of the award didn’t come via letter, phone call or social media. Polcyn learned he had won the top teaching award by way of a tradition that started nearly 20 years ago with university administrators, selection committee members, and faculty members barging into the winner’s classroom to make the announcement.
CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales kept up the tradition when he made a surprise visit to Polcyn’s class to make the announcement.
“We’re here to celebrate with you the fact that students and faculty have nominated Dr. Dave Polcyn as the Golden Apple Award winner,” Morales told the students in the class. “Dave has been an incredible citizen of this university, not just the College of Natural Sciences, but in serving this university, committees and providing just extraordinary support to the teachers of science throughout the Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Dave, congratulations.”
Prior to the surprise, Morales called Polcyn “an outstanding example of what the Golden Apple Award represents.
“He is an excellent teacher, not just for the outstanding knowledge he possesses but also because of the passion he has for his students and science education,” Morales said. “He is committed to the craft of teaching and strives to advance methodology and enhance student comprehension. He is also dedicated to assuring K-12 students throughout our community receive quality science instruction. We are extremely fortunate to have him here at CSUSB.”
Kirsty Fleming, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, which houses the biology department, praised Polcyn for his dedication to working with students.
“When I think about Dave and teaching … it is how much work he’s done with the K-12 schools to help prepare students to be successful in college,” Fleming said. “I think that’s huge.”
She added that Polcyn has been a driving force and advocate over the past four years in a faculty committee created to get students more involved in their own learning and participate more in the classroom.
“One of the things that I have really valued as dean is working closely with faculty members on teaching to help you (students) learn and be successful. That’s one of the things I think a lot with Dave,” Fleming said.
Polcyn humbly thanked everyone.
“There’s at least a handful of faculty in our department that should get it instead of me. I don’t know what to say,” Polcyn said. “It’s nice to have a job where you do what you love. It’s not like working. Thank you.”
The nominating committee wrote that Polcyn was chosen for the Golden Apple because “he has had an immense impact at all levels of education in our university, and he is always fondly remembered for his passion and his knowledge and love for students.”
But Polcyn’s dedication for quality teaching is not limited to his already impressive portfolio that expands from lower division to graduate level courses. It also extends to his leadership in ‘”changing the culture of teaching on our campus” as he is “a founding participant in developing the interdepartmental Faculty Learning Community and a leader in bringing evidence-based learning techniques and concepts to faculty,” the committee wrote.
Polcyn has been a strong advocate of formative assessment strategies to ensure the highest student learning outcome at a time when some faculty are skeptical and hesitant about integrating internal assessment processes into their curriculum, the committee added.
During his 28 years of teaching at CSUSB, Polcyn has often been praised by his students. He earned the College of Natural Sciences Outstanding Professor Award in 2002-2003. Student comments speak to his passion for and commitment to teaching.
Wrote one student, “I walk out of his class having learned, not only important things that will help my education, but also my quality of life,” while another wrote that Polcyn is “extremely knowledgeable and informative.” A third student wrote that Polcyn is “always available for students,” while a fourth added, “Dr. Polcyn is very good at demonstrating things and makes complicated ideas more simple and easy to understand.”
Polcyn’s commitment to quality education transcends the classroom as he has worked hard to secure funding and served as a principal investigator for external grants exceeding $6.2 million specifically geared for teacher training and science education, the committee wrote. He has also worked with both liberal studies students and biology students to develop the Integrated Teaching Track so that the students are able to receive their teaching credentials in a reasonable time.
The chair of the biology department, Professor Mike Chao, said that Polcyn has worked hard to cut through red tape and bureaucracy to ensure K-12 students get an exceptional science education.
“K-12 Education in California is a literal rat maze of regulations that even educational professionals navigate with difficulty. But Dave has pressed on with a single-minded determination to ensure that California children can get a quality K-12 science education,” Chao wrote. Polcyn’s “dedication to this cause is truly unmatched on our campus and I think has largely gone unnoticed by many.”
The committee said that Polcyn is not only a scholar in the field of biology, but also understands the principles and methodologies of effective teaching and integrates best practices in the field of education in his own classroom.
Polcyn’s teaching philosophy starts with the basic premise that teaching and learning are two distinct concepts, recognizing that students have different learning styles, and that every student is unique and able to bring his/her own set of experience and expertise to enrich the classroom.
Polcyn then works to transform the educational experience from a traditional teacher-centered environment to a student-centered environment to maximize student learning. From there, he approaches each of his classes differently, depending on students’ background, needs, and aspirations. He integrates active learning strategies, continuously updates the content he teaches based on the latest research in his fast-changing field, and incorporates new pedagogical methods in the classroom, the committee wrote.
Polcyn also exhibits ultimate modesty and dedication for lifelong learning and continuous improvement. He has stated, “I have evolved over the years from a professor focused on making sure I have covered all the topics to a professor concerned about whether the students have learned the important material. When I get good enough at it, those two will be the same.”
The committee concluded that “Polcyn clearly exemplifies excellence in teaching. He is a great asset and ambassador of Cal State San Bernardino as he challenges, teaches and inspires our students to enrich their educational experience. In this respect, he is the most deserving for this year’s prestigious Golden Apple Award.”
Polcyn was awarded a bachelor’s degree in biology from Cal State Fullerton, and a master’s degree and Ph.D., both in biology, from UC Riverside.
For an electronic image of Professor David Polcyn and more information on Cal State San Bernardino, contact the university’s Office of Strategic Communication at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.
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