Baylor Honors University of Missouri Physics Professor With $250,000 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching

January 16, 2014

Dr. Meera Chandrasekhar honored for exceptional teaching, distinguished scholarship

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WACO, Texas (Jan. 16, 2014) - Baylor University has named Meera Chandrasekhar, Ph.D., professor of physics and astronomy and Curator's Teaching Professor of Physics at the University of Missouri, as the 2014 recipient of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching. The Cherry Award is the only national teaching award - with the single largest monetary reward of $250,000 - presented by a college or university to an individual for exceptional teaching.

"Baylor University is very pleased to honor Dr. Chandrasekhar with Baylor's 2014 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching," said Elizabeth Davis, Ph.D., executive vice president and provost at Baylor. "Dr. Chandrasekhar is an internationally known teacher/scholar who combines an impressive academic record with a stellar reputation for the extraordinary impact she has had on undergraduate and graduate students.

"For the duration of our storied 169-year history, Baylor University has dedicated itself to the development and shaping of our students through the value we place on extraordinary classroom teaching. Our outstanding faculty continue that tradition to this day by equipping our students to reach the highest levels of academic and educational achievement," Davis said. "The Cherry Award allows us to extend that experience by bringing to our campus some of the world's greatest teachers, such as Dr. Chandrasekhar. We congratulate her on this award, and we look forward to welcoming her to Baylor University."

The Cherry Award program at Baylor is designed to honor great teachers, stimulate discussion in the academy about the value of teaching and encourage departments and institutions to value their own great teachers. Along with a record of distinguished scholarship, individuals nominated for the Cherry Award have a proven record as extraordinary teachers with positive, inspiring and long-lasting effects on students.

As the 2014 Cherry Award recipient, Chandrasekhar will receive the $250,000 award and an additional $25,000 for the physics department at the University of Missouri. She is expected to teach in residence at Baylor during the spring 2015 semester.

"I am deeply honored to learn that I will receive the 2014 Robert Foster Cherry Award, and I am humbled to join the illustrious group of teacher scholars who received the award before me," Chandrasekhar said. "The appreciation of excellence in teaching and associated learning has been growing over the past couple of decades. I am excited about my upcoming semester at Baylor, and look forward to collaborating with the faculty and students at the University in the teaching and learning enterprise."

Chandrasekhar visited the Baylor campus in October 2013 to present her Cherry finalist lecture on "Blind to Polarization: What Humans Cannot See." In that public lecture, she took students, faculty and staff on a hands-on journey that explored polarization by using natural phenomena as well as modern-day applications, ranging from 3D movies to engineering design.

Dr. Meera Chandrasekhar's Cherry Award finalist lecture - "Blind to Polarization: What Humans Cannot See (Oct. 28, 2013)" - can be viewed online at

"Every exceptional teacher that I have met is a lover of learning - their own, and that of others; their love for learning extends well beyond their particular field of expertise. The remarkable thing about teaching is that it enriches the learner as well as the teacher. I am fortunate to be in such a profession," she said.

Chandrasekhar was named a finalist for the Cherry Award in April 2013, along with fellow distinguished teacher/scholars Joan Breton Connelly, Ph.D., Professor of Classics and Art History, New York University, and Michael K. Salemi, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As Cherry Award finalists, each professor received $15,000, while their home departments also received $10,000 for the development of teaching skills.

"The Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching committee was very pleased with the strength of the nomination pool for the 2014 award," said Michael W. Thompson, Ph.D., chair of the Robert Foster Cherry Award Committee and professor and graduate director in the department of electrical and computer engineering in Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science. "It was very gratifying to see the enthusiastic response that each of our three finalists received during their campus visit. Each finalist presented their public lecture to a packed venue and their guest classroom lectures were highly acclaimed.

"Dr. Meera Chandrasekhar has an outstanding record of recognized teaching accomplishments and awards. The selection committee was particularly impressed at the impact her teaching has had at all university levels and with her K-12 outreach efforts," Thompson said.

Greg Benesh, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of physics in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, said his department was very pleased about Dr. Chandrasekhar's selection.

"Faculty members tremendously enjoyed Dr. Chandrasekhar's visit last fall and were excited at the prospect of her joining us as the Cherry Professor," Benesh said. "Dr. Chandrasekhar is a gifted and innovative teacher who excites and motivates students by connecting concepts with everyday observations and modern technology. Our students, both science majors and non-science majors alike, will benefit greatly from seeing this outstanding teacher at work."

Chandrasekhar earned her bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics from M.G.M. College, Mysore University in India, in 1968, master's degrees in physics from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, India, in 1970 and Brown University in 1973, and a Ph.D. in physics from Brown University in 1976. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Max-Planck-Institut in Germany, she joined the University of Missouri faculty in 1978.

Chandrasekhar's teaching and research has been recognized with many honors, including the 2006 President's Award for Outstanding Teaching from the University of Missouri, 2004 Curators' Distinguished Teaching Professorship from the University of Missouri, 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from the National Science Foundation, 1998 Missouri Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, 1997 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence from the University of Missouri and 1990 Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity in the Physical and Mathematical Sciences. She was honored in 2002 with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Indian Institute of Technology. She received an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in 1985 and was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1992.

Chandrasekhar's research interests are in the area of optical spectroscopy of semiconductors, superconductors and conjugated polymers, with an emphasis on studies of high pressure. She has a strong interest in the education of young students and has developed hands-on physics programs for students in grades 5-12 and summer institutes for K-12 teachers, activities for which she has received several awards.


The Cherry Award was created by Robert Foster Cherry, who earned his A.B. from Baylor in 1929. He enrolled in the Baylor Law School in 1932 and passed the Texas State Bar Examination the following year. With a deep appreciation for how his life had been changed by significant teachers, he made an exceptional estate bequest to establish the Cherry Award program to recognize excellent teachers and bring them in contact with Baylor students. The inaugural Robert Foster Cherry Award was presented in 1991 and is now awarded biennially.

For additional information on Baylor's Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, including past recipients and the 2016 Cherry Award nomination process, visit The nomination deadline for the 2016 award is Nov. 1, 2014.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.