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Cali Owings, Published November 13 2013

MSUM professor named 2013 Minnesota Professor of the Year

MOORHEAD – Brian Wisenden, a biosciences professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, approaches undergraduate education with a teacher-scholar model.

“If I want to teach science, I have to do science,” said Wisenden, who brings his own research in fish behavior to classes as examples.

“Right down to freshman year, if we’re going to talk about science, we have to model what it means to be a scientist and start it with the first day,” he said.

That approach is one of the reasons Wisenden will be recognized today in Washington, D.C., as the 2013 Minnesota Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The undergraduate-focused award is based on direct involvement with students. He’s among 36 other instructors nationwide recognized this year.

Wisenden joins nine other MSUM professors who have won the ward – more than any other college in the state. Two of those winners are his colleagues in the biosciences department.

He said that’s not a coincidence. His department has created a “culture of nurturing the research experience.”

Providing real research opportunities for undergraduates is a priority, Wisenden said.

“Most people don’t think of MSUM or four-year undergraduate colleges as place where research happens,” he said.

But without competition from graduate and post-doctoral students, undergraduates can work with faculty to conduct research and publish papers in peer-reviewed journals as early as freshman year.

“They’re not just techs in the lab collecting glassware,” Wisenden said. “We’re shoulder-to-shoulder in the field.”

That’s the case for Evangeline Holley, a junior whose name appears first on a research paper recently submitted for review.

Holley started researching under Wisenden during the first semester of her freshman year.

“The awesome thing about working with Brian is that I’m involved in every step of the process; he really treats it as our project,” she said.

Wisenden said he currently works with 17 students for six studies on fish behavior. More-experienced students get the chance to lead the projects and newer students learn from their classmates.

Senior Sabrina Boit, who transferred to MSUM from Minnesota State Community and Technical College, said Wisenden opened her eyes to research.

“I had no research experience. I had one thing on my mind – just looking to get a major and eventually go to graduate school,” Boit said.

Now working on a study of fathead minnows, Boit said Wisenden’s teaching and research-mentorship have had a huge impact on her.

“He’s the most influential professor I’ve had in my career, and I owe a lot to him,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599