Redefining the Classroom

Thomas A. Allan, Recipient 2009

Assoiciate Professor Thomas A. AllanA longtime biology professor who said he feels as if he is “an old man in a modern world” was chosen by his students and colleagues to receive this year’s Distinguished Teaching Award at Lake Superior State University.

The award was announced during commencement ceremonies today that also featured presentations by novelist Steve Hamilton and class of 2009 student respondent Mark Herbert of Sault Ste. Marie. Nearly 600 graduates received more than 640 degrees during the annual graduation ceremony.

“This year’s recipient of the distinguished teaching award has been characterized as brilliant, enthusiastic, and very fair, able to explain information in ways that make you remember even the smallest details,” said LSSU Provost Scott Amos in introducing Allan while reading some of the remarks made by students who nominated him. “He has a keen sense of humor while remaining professional. Using whiteboards and multi-colored markers, this professor hits the ground running in every class, demonstrating interest in the subject and an eagerness to convey this knowledge in an unpretentious way.

“Perhaps his greatest strength, as noted by those who nominated him, is his ability to make a difference in the lives of students in many different majors throughout the university,” Amos continued.

The award is kept secret until it is announced at the graduation ceremony, so Allan and his colleagues were all surprised.

“When he used the world ‘brilliant,’ I thought that ruled me out right away,” said Allan when he came to the podium to address the audience. He then explained why it was pointed out that he teaches class with lectures, demonstrations and field work, as opposed to PowerPoint presentations or other modern technology.

“I don’t use PowerPoint presentations, I write on the board and my handwriting is not as good as it used to be. I don’t use Scantrons (computerized test scoring sheets) because I believe the world isn’t multiple choice. I don’t have a laptop computer and I believe blackberries are for making jam,” Allan said to the delight of his students and, it seemed, most in the crowd.

“I don’t have a Facebook page…I want my friends to come see me,” he continued. “I don’t have the slightest idea what ‘Twitter’ is, I don’t know how to text message…I hate cellphones. I think they’re a plague on modern society.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m an old man in a modern world, but someone must agree with me,” he said, referring to his students. “I am truly honored and humbled. Thank you.”

More than two dozen members of Allan’s family and friends were present for the ceremony.

Allan’s first job with LSSU was in keeping with his emphasis on teaching in the outdoor classroom; he was hired as coordinator of LSSU’s Vermilion Station, a former US Life-Saving Station on the remote Lake Superior shore approximately 12 miles west of Whitefish Point. While maintaining the biological station, Allan hosted student groups and field courses. He taught some biology courses part-time before being hired full time as an associate professor in biology in 1992.

Allan holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Central Michigan University, a master’s degree in forestry and wildlife from Michigan Technological University and a doctoral degree in wildlife ecology from University of Maine. He also studied at University of Minnesota’s Biological Station before coming to LSSU, where he teaches a variety of biology courses and specializes in ornithology.

Allan and LSSU alumnus Ned Canfield DO, who also is a former Vermilion coordinator, collaborated on a book, “Life on a Lonely Shore – A History of the Vermilion Point Life-Saving Station,” in 1991.

Since 1971, LSSU students, faculty and staff have presented the Distinguished Teaching Award to a professor who demonstrates command of his or her subject matter, inspires students and serves as a good role model for students and others. Nearly 30 LSSU faculty were nominated for the award this year, according to Amos.

“The number of nominations speaks well of the faculty as a whole, and I thank all of you for your excellent work,” he said.

Allan and his wife, Sharon, are the parents of a daughter, Erolia, and a son, Eli.