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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published November 18 2010

MSUM's U.S. professor of the year goes beyond the blackboard

Russ Colson doesn’t just teach in his classroom, he learns.

And that approach is earning the Minnesota State University Moorhead geology professor national recognition.

Colson will be honored today in Washington, D.C., as the U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

It’s the first time for MSUM – and the whole state of Minnesota – to have a state university professor receive the national honor.

Students who nominated Colson said his enthusiasm for science spills into the classroom.

“To me, (science) was just some old, boring book on the shelf,” wrote Colson’s former student, Tabb Christopher Prissel. “That is, until I met Dr. Colson.”

Each of Colson’s classes has interactive lectures and significant lab and field work. More than 1,400 students have accompanied Colson to learn geology in the field, many on multiday trips.

“Geology is about reading the earth, not reading the textbook,” said Colson, who has taught at MSUM since 1993. “You can’t really have the light bulb go on until you go out there and practice some of those skills that you’ve been trying to learn at a blackboard.”

Michael Michlovic, chairman of the MSUM department of anthropology and earth science, said Colson created the geology major nearly single-handedly.

“We pride ourselves on having good teachers, but Russ, he’s just the best,” Michlovic said. “He works so hard all the time. He’s always at work. He’s always with students.”

Recent MSUM graduate Anthony Larson took 11 classes from Colson and was inspired to pursue a career as a geology teacher, using many of Colson’s methods during his student-teaching.

“He was probably one of my greatest mentors when I was in college,” Larson said.

Colson is the ninth MSUM professor to be honored by the Carnegie Foundation. He was selected for the award in the category for master’s universities and colleges from a field of more than 300 distinguished professors.

Eight MSUM professors have received the foundation’s Professor of the Year award for Minnesota. No university, public or private, has received more such awards than MSUM in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa or Wisconsin.

The award is administered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Colson said the small class sizes at MSUM and the commitment of faculty to undergraduate research are some reasons why so many MSUM professors have been recognized.

“I do think that we have had a culture at our university of valuing and rewarding faculty who do this thing of working with students and interacting with them in a way beyond just lecturing at them,” Colson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590