Profs. Maddox and Rupke Win 2020 Clarence Day Awards

a side-by-side photo of two men in ties
Prof. Geoff Maddox (L) and Prof. David Rupke (R) recipients of the 2020 Clarence Day Awards

Each year, Rhodes College honors two faculty members with the Clarence Day Awards for Outstanding Teaching and for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity, two of the college’s highest honors for its faculty. This year's recipients are Dr. Geoff Maddox and Dr. David Rupke.

Clarence Day, whose dedication to the college’s mission led to the establishment of these generous awards 40 years ago, was a great friend of the college and a champion of the work of the faculty. Provost Milton Moreland recognized the recipients at a virtual faculty meeting on May 13. The full text of Provost Moreland’s speech is reprinted below:

This year’s Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity is awarded to Associate Professor David Rupke in the Department of Physics. 

After completing his PhD at the University of Maryland in 2004, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, HI, Professor Rupke joined the faculty at Rhodes in 2010. As an astrophysicist, his research focuses on the processes by which galaxies transform themselves over the lifetime of the universe. In his research he employs some of the largest ground-based optical telescopes in the world, including the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, as well as space-based telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope. His research observes the gas and dust in galaxies to tease out their motions and properties. In this work, Dave collaborates with a wide variety of national and international scientists, and he was invited to be part of a team that successfully proposed to use NASA’s next flagship observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope that will be launched next year.

During his space observations in November 2018 he helped discover an unexpectedly large nebula of gas around a small galaxy. This nebula has turned out to be one of the largest galactic winds ever discovered. The discovery led him into a third major collaboration with an international team of astronomers, and this groundbreaking discovery was published in the journal Nature in October 2019, with Dave as the first author.

As a teacher-scholar, Dave’s research on black holes, the physics of spectroscopy, and on Australian aboriginal astronomers, as well as countless other astrophysics topics, continues to enable him to bring his cutting-edge research into his classroom. He has designed and taught a variety of classes at Rhodes based on his research, including The Science of Climate Change, Observational Astronomy, and Astrophysics.

He is also well known as a mentor to young researchers in his lab, having worked closely with over 18 students. Every year, several Rhodes students work in the summers and during the academic year on projects related to the evolution of galaxies. These students have gone on to top graduate programs and pursue a wide variety of careers, including  former students who currently work as astrophysicists, computer scientists, and engineers.

As a scientist, Dave has published over 57 peer-reviewed articles and many other conference presentations and other publications, the vast majority of which were completed since he has been a faculty member at Rhodes. He has also received over 22 grants to support his research efforts. Impressively, of these many grants, he has received five observing grants for telescope time totaling over $100,000. Three are for time on the Hubble Space Telescope, one for time at Hawaii’s Keck Observatory, and one for time on the new James Webb Space Telescope.

In summary, Dave Rupke’s record of scholarly work is extremely impressive. As his letters of nomination attest, “His publication list is expanding and accelerating, much like our universe.” His colleagues note that “The quality of his work has been recognized by researchers and granting agencies and has resulted in time on the world’s top three telescopes and a recent publication in Nature. The quality of Dave’s scholarly work, especially in the last three years, is more than outstanding.” Finally, his nominators note that “Having a world-class astrophysicist at Rhodes has enhanced the physics curriculum in immeasurable ways, from unique and innovative course offerings to valuable research experiences for students.”

Dr. Geoff Maddox, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, is the recipient of this year’s Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Professor Maddox joined the faculty at Rhodes in 2013, after completing his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis that year. As a professor of Psychology, Geoff is well known for his creative and imaginative pedagogy, as well as being a terrific storyteller who invites his students to imagine themselves as participants in psychological research methods and findings. As one of the many letters of nomination states, “He positions students as research apprentices and collaborators, asking them to be intellectually curious and precise in their thinking, and engaging them as community members in a process of shared inquiry.”

His nominators note that, “His teaching materials carefully reflect his philosophy of teaching and his research focus on learning and memory. His courses are at the core of the psychology curriculum, from introductory courses to advanced research methods and senior seminars. He has also played an important role in the new interdisciplinary education program, developing a new Education Technologies course.”

As noted by students, alumni and faculty from several departments who nominated him for this award, Geoff’s work with students extends beyond his courses. “He is a mentor to many undergraduate students in psychology and maintains a very active research lab, presenting at national and international conferences and publishing with our students.” He has a strong record of motivating students toward advanced study in learning and memory.

As one of his former students notes, “Prof. Maddox moved us to think about connections between cognition and self-expression, memory and knowledge, and comprehension and language. In so doing, he provided a way into thinking about what our minds do when we write. For the students, this was precisely the kind of liberal arts lesson they crave: one that creates dialogue between disciplines and, more specifically, reveals how science and artifact are mutually reliant.” As another former student wrote about his use of mind quizzes that lead to unexpected grammatical foibles: “Having us ‘perform’ (and sometimes fail at!) the very cognitive process that we were learning about provided a kind of levity and looseness that opened the class space for questions and insight.”

Geoff’s colleagues also often note that he is a very generous and supportive teacher-colleague. He is “remarkably thoughtful and intentional regarding his pedagogy.” With poise, humor, and scholarly acuity, he shows great enthusiasm for his field of study, and is freely willing to share his pedagogical ideas with them. He also works as hard outside the classroom as he does during his class sessions. Many students noted his willingness to meet them after class for clarifying points, or during office hours for more intense conversations. It is abundantly clear from the letters of nomination that Geoff cares deeply about student learning. He takes advantage of every opportunity for growth, both as an educator and as a human. As one letter notes, “he is humble and continually opens himself up for evaluation and adjustments in his teaching. He listens to his students and is incredibly receptive to their needs. He is genuinely invested in the growth of his students, both personally and intellectually.”

Another colleague notes, “Geoff creates a classroom environment in which his students feel encouraged and inspired to actively participate in their own education. Geoff challenges his students, yet provides the appropriate support for them to succeed. Students are motivated to succeed because Geoff creates high, yet achievable goals.

Geoff focuses on developing students to be independent thinkers and critical consumers of scientific information. This speaks to how well Geoff plans out all aspects of his courses to integrate and align with his overall learning goals."