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Tom Owens is known as a tireless teacher, cherished mentor, and pioneer in the “flipped classroom” approach to teaching. He is now known as something else: the 2017 Louis and Edith Edgerton Career Teaching Award winner.

Owens, associate professor of plant biology in the School of Integrative Plant Science, received the award April 17 during the Dean’s Awards Dinner at the Statler Hotel. At the annual event, Dean Kathryn J. Boor honored a select group of CALS students, faculty, and staff, highlighting achievements in undergraduate education, teaching, and advising.

Previous Awardees of The Louis and Edith Edgerton Career Teaching Award Since 2000


Wayne A. Sinclair, Plant Pathology


Richard A. Baer, Natural Resources


Douglas A. Haith, Biological and Environmental Engineering


Richard B. Root, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Brian O. Earle, Communication


Eddy L. LaDue, Applied Economics and Management


E. John Pollak, Animal Science


William C. Ghiorse, Microbiology


Ronald M. Harris-Warrick, Neurobiology and Behavior


Carl D. Hopkins, Neurobiology and Behavior


Elizabeth D. Earle, Plant Breeding and Genetics


George W. Hudler, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology


James P. Lassoie, Natural Resources


Thomas D. Fox, Molecular Biology and Genetics


John Parks, Animal Science

2015Richard Harrison, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

2016David Levitsky, Nutritional Science

The Edgerton Career Teaching award was established in 1980 to recognize annually a faculty member in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who has taught for at least 25 years and demonstrated outstanding teaching and advising.

Colleagues, students, and former students described Owens as a teacher and mentor who is generous with his time and invested in helping his students succeed. He has been a pioneer in developing new teaching methods, including “flipped classroom” methods that prioritize development of critical thinking and problem solving skills over rote memorization.

Jeff Doyle, professor and chair of Plant Breeding and Genetics, described Owens as “a man of integrity, courage, and conviction, who has always put students first.”

"I’ve taught with Tom, and it is so patently obvious that he loves teaching, and loves students,” Doyle said. “It is a tough love—he is very demanding, and accepts nothing less than a full effort on their part. But he meets them more than half way, and works tirelessly to be the best teacher he can be.”

Sam Olyha ’14 first met Owens as a freshman in 2010. He was both her advisor and the professor for her first class, BioG 1440: Comparative Physiology. After graduating in Biological Sciences, Olyha went on to be a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, and is now an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at Yale School of Medicine.

“Professor Owens has served not only as an extraordinary advisor, teacher, and mentor, but he has also supported me every step along the way in my academic journey,” Olyha said. “I am certain that I would not be where I am today without his support and guidance. He is an exemplary educator for whom I have the utmost respect, and I have found him to continue to be so many years after first taking his course. He is, quite simply, the best mentor and teacher I have ever had."

Owens has taught a variety of courses over his 30 years at Cornell, including such staples as plant physiology, plant biochemistry, introductory biology, and many others. He has also taught courses through the Cornell Prison Teaching Program, served as Director of Graduate Studies in Plant Biology, and participated in multiple curriculum development committees.

He has already received five other awards for his exemplary teaching and advising, including being named a Life Science Teaching Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences.

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