The Charles Edwin Bessey Teaching Award

Dr. Charles Edwin Bessey

DR. CHARLES EDWIN BESSEY is remembered as one of the great developers of botanical education in the United States of America. In 1884, he accepted the professorship of botany and horticulture at the University of Nebraska. His work and dedication to improving the educational aspects of Botany are most noted in what Nebraskans call "The Bessey Era" (1886-1915), during which Nebraska developed an extraordinary program in botany and ranked among the top five schools in the United States for the number of its undergraduates who became famous botanists. Dr. Bessey served as dean of the University of Nebraska Agricultural College and became head dean in 1909. He served as interim chancellor for the University 1888-91, 1899 and again in 1899. This award recognizes individuals whose work has impacted botanical education at a regional, national and/or international level.

Award Recipients

2014 -Dr. Bruce K. Kirchoff, Dr. Kirchoff has been on the faculty at(University of North Carolina, Greensboro since 1986 where he has distinguished himself as a plant morphologist and botanical educator. He is a former member of the BSA Education Committee and served as chair in 1993-94.  His botanical education research on image recognition is a direct outgrowth of his morphological studies. 

Dr. Kirchoff is transforming the way that students learn through the creation of active, visual learning programs and mobile applications. He has created, validated, and is in the process of distributing groundbreaking software that helps students more easily master complex subjects.  Furthermore, he has collaborated not only with scientists in the U.S., but also Europe and Australia, to adapt his visual learning software to local problems such as helping Australian veterinary students recognize poisonous plants and providing visual identification keys for tropical African woods. 

In 2007 he was the BSA Education Booth Competition winner for Image Quiz: A new approach to teaching plant identification through visual learning and his work was showcased in the Education Booth at the Botany & Plant Biology 2007 Joint Congress in Chicago.   In 2013 he was the inaugural recipient of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) Innovations in Plant Systematics Education Prize and this year he was recognized with the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors award for Excellence in Teaching (watch the video!).


2013 -Dr. Shona Ellis, Professor of Teaching and Associate Head of Biology, Botany Department, University of British Columbia (UBC).  Shona has been faculty member in the Botany Department since 1994 teaching courses from Freshman Biology through upper division and graduate-level  Plant Anatomy.  She is active in the scholarship of teaching and learning with numerous publications and presentations both in basic botany (predominantly byrophytes and phytochemistry) and botanical education.  She was twice awarded the Killam teaching award, UBC’s highest teaching commendation, as well as an award from the Society of Canadian Women in Science and Technology for her efforts promoting women in STEM.   She has developed many on-line resources for her courses and for the general public (see  In cooperation with the UBC Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth and the Science Centre for Learning and Teaching, she has developed an eportfolio project for students.  As all good teachers, she leads by example - - see her eportfolio at:


2012 - Dr. Paul H. Williams, Professor emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Paul Williams developed a rapid cycling Brassica. This simple act changed the way science is taught in the United States and around the world. Today over 10 million students use Fast Plants, as they are also know, in any given year.  Fast Plants complete their life cycle as quickly as 35 days allowing students to develop an understanding of the plant life cycle and track the results of genetic experiments. Dr. Williams is a familiar figure at conferences, leading workshops introducing teachers to inquiry-based , innovative  and inexpensive ways to use Fast Plants with large lecture hall classes or small groups in classrooms. He has also a contributor to educational manuals such as "Exploring With Wisconsin Fast Plants," "Spiraling Through Life with Fast Plants," and "Bottle Biology".  He has received many awards and honors including being recognized as a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and recipient of the Erikkson Medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

2012 - Drs. Les Hickock and Thomas R. Warne, University of Tennessee. Dr. Les Hickock and Dr. Thomas R. Warne collaborated on the development and genetics of the tropical fern Ceratopteris.� They realized that this plant would make a powerful educational resource because of the rapid life cycle, the dynamics of sperm motility, and the potential of investigating density dependent changes in gametophyte development.� They produced instructional materials to support inquiry education, such as an intriguing exploration of sperm chemotaxis. Today,�Ceratopteris�is distributed world-wide in K-16 classrooms through the C-Fern��program.


2011 -Dr. Susan Singer, Carleton College. Dr. Singer is the Laurence McKinley Gould Professor of the Natural Sciences at Carleton College. She has served as Co-director of the Carleton Interdisciplinary Science and Math Initiative as well as the Director of the Perlman Learning and Teaching Center. At the national level, Dr. Singer has served as a Program Director for the National Science Foundation and recently worked on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s recent publication “Vision and Change”. This document is a call to action that is already impacting the future of biology teaching. Dr. Singer has received numerous grants, which have often resulted in publications including student authors. Her recent work as a member of the Education, Outreach, and Training Committee of the iPlant Collaborative epitomizes the national impact her actions have had on creating innovative and effective approaches to teaching botany.


2010 - Dr. Geoff Burrows, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga NSW, Australia. Dr. Burrows, Senior Lecturer in Plant Sciences, has been award the Charles Bessey Awards for his contribution to botanical education.  Dr. Burrows has developed web-based resources for teaching leaf morphology, gynoecium morphology, floral symmetry, and floral formula.  Additionally, he has been involved with extensive community outreach, including the creating of the popular Supermarket Botany web site.  He has an extensive publication record, including four papers on botany education.  Finally, Dr. Burrows integrates research with education by using his research findings to illustrate concepts in taxonomy, morphology, anatomy and ecology. The web-based resources are available at:

2010 -Dr. Chris Martine, State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Dr. Martine fostered the creation of the first student chapter of the Botanical Society of America. He is an active member of the Education Committee.  He has successfully integrated undergraduate research into his department.  His impact on SUNY – Plattsburgh can be summed up by the statement of his department Chairperson. “Dr. Martine has utterly transformed the teaching of botany at our school and vastly increased research and learning opportunities in botany for our students."  Finally, Dr. Martine is extensively involved with community outreach.  He has developed inspirational YouTube videos, including his "Chlorofilm" botanical education series, which teach children botanical principles in fun ways—check them out -!


2009 - Dr. Roger Hangarter is the Class of 1968 Chancellor's Professor in the Department of Biology at Indiana University. Although he is foremost a botanical researcher who studies how plants use light and gravity to regulate their growth and development, he recognizes the synergistic relationship between research and teaching. He is highly committed to, and has been highly successful at, communicating botany to public audiences. His Plants-In-Motion website provides a large collection of his own time-lapse plant movies and educational materials for teachers and students worldwide. He also develops visually compelling educational projects. His work is exhibited in US science museums as well as art galleries. Using time-lapse photography, Dr. Hangarter has created movies allowing us to see that plants are living organisms capable of some extraordinary things. His time-lapse movies provide a unique opportunity to demonstrate the dynamics of plant life. Professor Hangarter has shared his vision with the BSA at its annual meetings on several occasions—- including his most memorable delivery of the 2006 Educational Forum and Outreach plenary address entitled "Communicating an Awareness of Plants through Science and Art" at the Chico, CA meeting. In short, Dr. Roger P. Hangarter's significant and ever-evolving body of botany education work represents teaching innovation, documented national impact, attention to scientific quality, and a quest for public enlightenment.


2008 - Dr. Beverly Brown is an Associate Professor of Biology, at Nazareth College of Rochester, New York, and Immediate Past Chair of the Teaching Section of the Botanical Society of America. Dr. Brown was instrumental in the development of the BSA�s Planting Science project, providing the model for the project�s first activity, called �Planting Seeds.� The �Planting Seeds� project was based on her NSF Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) award to Nazareth College entitled, �Interdisciplinary Teaching: using the study of sprouts to teach mathematics and science at a liberal arts college.� Dr. Brown continues to serve the educational mission of BSA as a member of the Advisory Committee to the Planting Science project. In addition, she has been a long-time, active member of the Teaching Section of the BSA and has made several presentations related to the integration of her teaching and research, which includes the study of competition for pollination between invasive and native species.


Dr. Michael Pollan - Michael is a Knight Professor at the University of California--Berkeley and Director of the Knight Program for Science and Environmental Journalism there. Author of such best-selling books about plants as "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World," "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," and "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," he has awakened a basic interest in plants as food like no other author in recent times. The New York Times Book Review sums up his approach like this: "Pollan has a wide-ranging intellect, an eager grasp of evolutionary biology, and a subversive streak that helps him to root out some wonderfully counterintuitive points. His prose both shimmers and snaps, and he has a knack for finding perfect quotes in the oddest places� Best of all, Pollan really loves plants." One of today's university science students commented: "When you read each of Pollan's books, you just can't stop until you reach the very last page, and then, you feel you must tell someone about all you've learned! Pollan proposes a new (yet very old) answer to the question of what we should eat: 'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.'" With this award, the BSA wishes to recognize Dr. Pollan's carefully researched and far-reaching contributions to public awareness and understanding of plants via more than a dozen popular-press works.


2007 - Dr. Thomas Rost, University of California Davis - Tom is Assistant to the Director of International Programs, Professor Emeritus of Plant Biology, and Botanist Emeritus in the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of California, Davis. He is recognized for his innovative and outstanding teaching in plant anatomy, including early and experimental adoption of technology in his classes. Tom has been active in the BSA Education Committee and in the Structural and Developmental Section. He has published over 140 scientific papers on root growth and development and other anatomical topics, and co-authored four books, including two general botany textbooks. Dr. Rost received the Davis Division Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award, which is the highest teaching award make by each UC campus.

Dr. James Wandersee, Louisiana State University - Jim is the LeBlanc Alumni Association professor in the College of Education at LSU, focusing on biological and botanical science education. He is currently the Chair of the Teaching Section of the BSA and has presented many papers and workshops in this section and in the BSA Educational Forum. He helped coin the phrase �plant blindness� which was part of a campaign to help teachers, students, and the general public overcome their inability to notice plants in their own environment, which leads to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs. He is a prolific author, with over 100 publications and several books that have been translated into six languages. He was elected a fellow of AAAS, was an officer in the National Association of Biology Teachers, and is the director of the 15 Degree Laboratory, A Visual Cognition Research and Development Laboratory for Improving Biological and Botanical Learning.


2006 - Dr. W. Hardy Eshbaugh, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, Professor Emeritus, Department of Botany. The nomination letters indicate that Hardy has advanced and broadened botany education for several generations of Miami University students. He pioneered the development of field courses ranging from introductory level formal courses to public outreach for retirees. We thank him for his 33 years of formal teaching and his continuing efforts to bring additional understanding of the natural world to the public at large.

Dr. David W. Lee, Florida International University, Miami, Florida. Peer nominators wish to recognize life-long effort and creativity demonstrated by Dr. Lee teaching of botany and advocacy for botanical education. His unique career path began in 1970. It has included extensive research and teaching in the tropics, as well as academic positions in the United States. We thank him for sharing his love of botany and his desire to communicate about plants to students and the public in uniquely effective methods.


2005 - Dr. Donald Kaplan, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California. The nomination letters we received indicate that Donald has made a significant impact on the lives of many students whom he taught and supervised during his illustrious career. On behalf of his students and the Botanical Society of America, we are pleased to acknowledge Donald's passion and excellence in teaching botany. We thank him for his inspiration and dedication to our field, and we are proud to place his name on the list of Charles Edwin Bessey Award recipients.


2003 - Dr. Joseph Novak, University of West Florida, Pensacola. This award recognizes outstanding contributions to botanical instruction.


1999 - Dr. William Jensen, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. For taking the time to passionately teach botany to our next generation and for contributions far exceeding all expectations to the botanical sciences.


1998 - Dr. Joseph E. Armstrong, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois. Over the years, Joe has shared his passion for plants with thousands of students. In addition, BIOLAB, an electronic bulletin board, has become one of the most extensive collections of innovative laboratory activities that enhance student learning.


1997 - Dr. Marshall D. Sundberg, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas. Dr. Sundberg is a botanist in the tradition of Charles Bessey, He balances botanical research with educational research and teaching.


1991 - Dr. Gordon Uno, University of Oklahoma.

1990 - Dr. Barbara W. Saigo and Dr. Roy H. Saigo, University of Northern Iowa. Both recipients have given tirelessly of themselves in furthering botanical instruction, including leadership roles in the BSA Teaching Section and Education Committee.


1989 - Dr. Samuel Noel Postlethwait, who, like Charles Bessey, is recognized both as a scholar and as a teacher. Professor Postlethwait has been an inspiration to his students and has done much in promoting the teaching of botany during his tenure in the Biology Department at Purdue University, particularly in developing the audio-tutorial method of instruction. His enthusiasm for teaching and spirit of scholarly activity infects his students, who, in the spirit of Charles Bessey, continue to inspire others in the field of botany.

Dr. Charles Edwin Bessey

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Grady L. Webster Award Vernon I Cheadle STA Conant Botanical Images STA BSA Image Collection Charles E Bessey Award