Andrew Fraknoi Receives 2007 Professor of the Year Award
November, 2007 – Foothill College Astronomy Instructor Andrew Fraknoi, M.A., has been named the 2007 California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement & Support of Education (CASE). Fraknoi was selected from more than 300 top professors in the United States. The 40 national and state winners of the U.S. Professors of the Year Award will be honored at a luncheon and evening reception in Washington, D.C. Nov. 15.
The U.S. Professors of the Year Award Program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country-those who excel as teachers and influence the lives and careers of their students. It is recognized as one of the most prestigious awards honoring undergraduate teaching.
“So often what happens behind the doors of our nation’s college classrooms is left only to the public’s imagination,” Fraknoi said. “Yet, it is behind those doors that the crucial transformation of our students from kids to adults and from passive to active learners happens. My life’s missions have always been to share the excitement of astronomy with those who are not particularly science-oriented and foster in my students a lifelong interest in the wonders of the universe.”
A distinguished astronomy educator with a national reputation, Fraknoi is a longtime, community college instructor, textbook author, and prolific writer and speaker. During his career in education, he co-founded Astronomy Education Review, an online journal; founded the Cosmos in the Classroom Symposia for college faculty; and served as the executive director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) for 14 years. He has been a member of the Foothill College faculty and chairman of the college’s astronomy department since 1992.
A resident of San Francisco, Fraknoi is renowned for his ability to present and explain some of the most intriguing areas of modern astronomy and physics for students who are not majoring in the sciences. Students routinely applaud him for his instructional approach, which emphasizes humor, analogies, demonstrations, and relating science to the humanities. He is not above choreographing a quick moon orbit dance for his students or doing his own pulsar dance to keep their interest.
Fraknoi was chosen for the prestigious award for his extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching; impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; and contributions to undergraduate education at Foothill College, in the community.
“I believe that an understanding of our place in the wider universe and the methods of science are part of the birthright of everyone living on our planet,” Fraknoi said. “Yet, the way science is taught in this country can often discourage non-science majors from taking a life-long interest-or even a course-long interest-in science. My philosophy is to show students that science is engaging, human, and part of our cultural heritage.
“In all my science classes, I am dedicated to help students succeed, irrespective of their backgrounds, ages, or previous science experience. I do everything I can to make my classes fun, including using lots of visuals, reading poems and limericks, recommending science fiction stories, and even doing a moon-revolution or pulsar-beam dance in front of the class.
“After 38 years of teaching, I still approach each class with an enthusiasm for the subject matter that I hope comes across to the students. I try to communicate science in everyday language, drawing the students in, instead of pushing them away. My courses stress the larger themes of the vast scales of space and time, the varieties of nature, and the intricate beauty of the subatomic world. I am so delighted when students who have not succeeded in science before tell me that, for the first time, they really feel like they ‘get it’ and understand why people are excited about science.”
The California Professor of the Year Award is the latest of a number of awards that recognize Fraknoi’s commitment to excellence. In 1994, he received the Annenberg Foundation Prize of the American Astronomical Society-then the highest honor in the field of astronomy education-as well as the ASP’s Klumpke-Roberts Prize, which is awarded for a lifetime of contributions to popularizing astronomy.
He was the first recipient of the 2002 Carl Sagan Prize, awarded to a Bay Area scientist for outstanding work in popularizing science, and was elected a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 2003 (apparently the first community college instructor ever to serve in this capacity). His “Physics for Poets: Everything You Wanted to Know about Einstein but Were Afraid to Ask” course received the 2005 Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College because it treats some of the strangest and most abstract ideas of modern physics-relativity, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics-at the non-science major level, without math, but with humor, analogies and thought experiments. It also combines science with the humanities, using novels, poems, science fiction stories, music and art to illustrate the effect that modern physics has had on many areas of human culture.
In addition, Asteroid 4859 has been named Asteroid Fraknoi by the International Astronomical Union to honor his work in sharing the excitement of modern astronomy with students, teachers, and the public.
Radio listeners know him as a frequent guest on local and national news and talk programs. In Northern California, he appeared for more than 20 years on the Jim Eason Show on KGO and was a regular on the Pete Wilson Show on the same station. He has also been a regular guest on the Forum program with Michael Krasny on KQED, and is the astronomer-in-residence on the syndicated Mark & Brian Show based in Los Angeles. Nationally, he has been heard on Science Friday and Weekend All Things Considered on National Public Radio. His TV appearances include the Today Show, CBS Morning News and Larry King Live.
A prolific author, Fraknoi has edited two collections of science articles and science fiction stories for Bantam Books, and is the lead author of Voyages through the Universe (1997-2004, now in its third edition from Brooks-Cole), which has become one of the leading astronomy textbooks in the world. He is also the editor of the two-volume teaching guide The Universe at Your Fingertips, one of the most widely used astronomy education resources. His children’s book on astronomy, Wonderful World of Space, was published by Disney in July 2007.
Last month, he made his symphony debut, narrating Gustav Holst’s The Planets with the California Symphony Orchestra.
Eight years ago, Fraknoi founded the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series, which has grown to be one of the most popular events at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. For many of these lectures, Foothill’s 900-seat theater is filled to overflow capacity with crowds eager to hear current developments in astronomy from world-renowned scientists. The slate of impressive guest lecturers who have presented at Foothill College include the first woman in history to discover a planet, a U.S. astronaut, a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, and the discoverer of the dwarf planet beyond Pluto.
At the ASP, an international scientific and educational organization founded in 1889, he also founded and directed Project ASTRO, a program that trains and brings professional and amateur astronomers into 4th-9th grade classrooms (now in 13 regional sites throughout the U.S.) to help teachers be more effective in covering astronomy and space science. An offshoot, called Family ASTRO, brings hands-on astronomy events, kits and games to families around the country.
Fraknoi serves on the board of trustees of the SETI Institute, a scientific and educational organization. He is also a Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), specializing in debunking astrology.
Educated at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, he has taught astronomy and physics at San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, Cañada College, and several campuses of the University of California Extension Program.
Competition for the U.S. Professors of the Year Award takes place in several stages. Each candidate must first be selected from many qualified peers at his or her own institution and nominated for the award. Letters of support and endorsements from current and former students, colleagues, and presidents or academic deans accompany the entries. CASE then assembles two preliminary panels of judges to select finalists. The Carnegie Foundation then convened the third and final panel, which selected four national winners, who will be announced Nov. 15. CASE and Carnegie select state winners from top entries resulting from the judging process. Fraknoi was selected from faculty members nominated by colleges and universities throughout California.