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SMU Professor Louis Jacobs honored with prestigious award from Texas science teachers

The 7,200-member Science Teachers Association of Texas is honoring SMU paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs for his significant contributions to advance quality science education.

Science Teachers Association of Texas to present Jacobs with 2012 Skoog Cup for promoting quality science education

SMU’s Louis L. Jacobs, left, receives the Skoog Award Nov. 9 from Dr. Gerald Skoog and Science Teacher’s Association of Texas Past President Ross Ann Hill on behalf of the science teachers of Texas who recognized him for his significant contributions to K-12 science education. (Photo: Diana Vineyard)

Whether hunting dinosaur bones, examining the science of evolution or mentoring students, SMU Earth Sciences Professor Louis L. Jacobs earns high marks from Texas K-12 science teachers.

The 7,200-member Science Teachers Association of Texas, STAT, is honoring Jacobs for his significant contributions to advance quality science education.

A world-recognized vertebrate paleontologist, Jacobs has been selected to receive the prestigious 2012 Skoog Cup.

Jacobs is a professor in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and is president of SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man.

Recipients are chosen for a sustained record of leadership in science education, advocacy for quality K-12 science education for all students, contributions to professional science organizations, and development of effective programs for pre-service and in-service teachers of science.

STAT presents the Skoog Cup annually to a deserving faculty or staff member at a Texas college or university.

Jacobs was nominated by Texas science teachers, including leaders of the Texas Earth Science Teachers Association, TESTA, which is a subgroup of STAT.

“Dr. Jacobs has been a stalwart supporter of TESTA and Earth science education,” said Alexia Hueske Bieniek, president of TESTA. “He has been our strongest link between Earth science in the classroom and Earth science in the research world. If TESTA needs a speaker, a field-based workshop or field trip, we can rely on Dr. Jacobs to be there no matter where ‘there’ might be.”

Jacobs began working with TESTA in 1997 when he partnered with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History to launch the Lone Star Dinosaur Field Institute for Teachers. The teachers recovered a dinosaur from the hard sandstone of central Texas, then turned the experience into classroom activities. The massive dinosaur was later named Paluxysaurus jonesi, and the full skeletal mount is on display at the museum.

“Dr. Jacobs is truly committed to helping teachers and their students embrace the importance of scientific thinking and the value of field work in the Earth, life and environmental sciences,” said Linda Knight, past president of TESTA, past president of the National Earth Science Teachers Association and past president of STAT.

Jacobs dedicated to sharing knowledge and talents as leading scientist
Jacobs has consistently given his time, talents and knowledge to TESTA over the years, said Kathryn A. Barclay, TESTA Board of Directors.

“Dr. Jacobs models and exemplifies the collaboration between the K-12 science education community and the post-secondary University science level that is necessary to advance scientific knowledge and opportunities in Texas for our students,” Barclay said. “His dedication to sharing his knowledge and talents as a leading scientist in the field of vertebrate paleontology makes him our ‘Indiana Jones’ to Texas’ teachers and students.”

In addition to the Skoog Cup, the association also recognized Outstanding Science Teacher of the Year and Administrator of the Year.

“The honored educators and administrators embody the devotion to their calling that all our members share,” said Chuck Hempstead, executive director of the association, acknowledging Jacobs and the others. “As Texas public education continues to face the specter of budget cuts and outdated textbooks, we can take pride in these honorees’ dedication to tomorrow’s scientific leaders.”

Jacobs and the other award winners will be honored during the association’s annual Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching, Nov. 8-10 in Corpus Christi. The Skoog Cup is named for the first award recipient, Dr. Gerald Skoog, professor emeritus, College of Education, Texas Tech University.

Science education and respect for learning benefit all
Jacobs, who has taught at SMU since 1983, recognizes his subject as a gateway to introduce science and math. “Paleontology is CSI investigation of very cold cases using the most up-to-date technology in a multidisciplinary approach.”

“The measure of good science is that it can be understood,” Jacobs said. “That dictum applies at all levels — from researchers to K-12 — among those who create new knowledge, those who deliver it and those who receive it. Everyone everywhere deserves to understand science for their own good and that of others. That is the importance of science education.”

Jacobs’ scientific passion is evolution, which he describes as “the unifying concept that links disparate facts about life into a coherent whole. It is the basis for understanding the interrelationships of life and planet Earth. More than that, life makes every topic more interesting, such as exploration of space and the search for life beyond the bounds of Earth.”

“The evolution of life on Earth ultimately leads to us and to all other species living here and now,” Jacobs said. “Our understanding of the relationships between Earth and the life it bears is fundamentally important to our future. Think of the Earth as performing experiments in climate change, and the fossil record explaining their effects on life. Now fast forward climate change to the future and see what we can expect.”

Breadth of teaching and research marks a lifetime of service
A mentor to students, Jacobs has conducted extensive field research worldwide. He has provided specimens to the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. That includes the skeleton of Malawisaurus on display in the lobby, which he and his colleagues named and provided to the museum.

Jacobs’ field research is now focused on Angola in southwestern Africa. He co-leads Projecto PaleoAngola, a collaborative international scientific research program to understand the effect of the opening of the South Atlantic Ocean on ancient life.

In the laboratory, Jacobs’ research utilizes advanced imaging and stable isotope techniques to investigate paleoenvironmental, biogeographic and phylogenetic issues of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.

As president of SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man, Jacobs has launched a project with students and faculty for the Dedman College Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching to identify and evaluate four sites in Texas for potential designation as National Natural Landmarks of the National Park Service.

Jacobs serves on the National Park Service Science Committee Advisory Board, which recommends National Natural Landmarks to the U.S. Department of the Interior. He has served as president of the international Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, and in 1999 he was director ad interim of the Dallas Museum of Natural History. Before joining SMU, he served as head of the Division of Paleontology at the National Museum of Kenya. He has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University, a Specially Appointed Professor at Hokkaido University, Japan, and a Visiting Professor at Richard Leakey’s Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya.

Jacobs is the author of “Quest for the African Dinosaurs: Ancient Roots of the Modern World” (Villard Books and Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2000); “Lone Star Dinosaurs” (Texas A&M U. Press, 1999), which is the basis of the Texas dinosaur exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History; “Cretaceous Airport” (ISEM, 1993); and more than 100 scientific papers and edited volumes. — Margaret Allen

STAT was founded in 1957. It is a non-profit organization of elementary, middle and high school teachers, college educators and supervisors of science.