Baylor Honors Rice University Psychology Professor with $250,000 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching

January 14, 2016

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WACO, Texas (Jan. 14, 2016) – Baylor University has named Michelle Rae Hebl, Ph.D., Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Professor of Psychology at Rice University, as the 2016 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. The award program is designed to honor great teachers, stimulate discussion in the academy about the value of teaching and encourage departments and institutions to recognize their own great teachers. Along with a record of distinguished scholarship, individuals nominated for the Cherry Award have proven themselves as extraordinary teachers with positive, inspiring and long-lasting effects on students.

"The Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching committee was very pleased with the strength of the nomination pool for the 2016 award. Each of the three finalists had successful campus visits in the fall, during which they were able to present a public lecture and guest lecture in two undergraduate classes offered by their host departments," said Michael W. Thompson, Ph.D., committee chair and associate dean for undergraduate programs in Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science.

"Dr. Hebl has a remarkable record of recognized teaching and scholarship awards," he said. "The Cherry committee was particularly impressed with her passion and enthusiasm for teaching and her ability to engage with both students and faculty across a variety of disciplines."

As the 2016 Cherry Award recipient, Hebl will receive the $250,000 award and an additional $25,000 for the psychology department at Rice University. She is expected to teach in residence at Baylor during the spring 2017 semester.

Hebl was named a finalist, along with fellow distinguished teacher/scholars Teresa C. Balser, Ph.D., professor of soil and ecosystem ecology at Curtin University, and Lisa Russ Spaar, M.F.A., professor of English and creative writing at the University of Virginia. As Cherry Award finalists, each received $15,000, while their home departments also received $10,000 for the development of teaching skills.

"I feel thrilled and humbled," Hebl said. "It was easy for me to envision not being selected over the final two months, particularly given that the other two finalists, Teresa Balzer and Lisa Spaar, clearly are very gifted and accomplished teachers. I feel lucky to be in their company as well as the other folks who were considered. And moreover, I just feel lucky to be recognized for something – teaching and mentoring – that I feel so blessed to do as a career."

Hebl visited Baylor in October 2015 to present her Cherry finalist lecture, "Mindbugs and Gorillas and White Bears, Oh My!" In that public lecture, she demonstrated how even the most high-intentioned and educated people hold biases, possess skewed beliefs about themselves and express discrimination toward others.

(See Hebl's lecture, "Mindbugs and Gorillas and White Bears, Oh My!")

Hebl earned her B.A. in psychology with high honors from Smith College in 1991, a master's degree in psychology from Texas A&M University in 1993 and a Ph.D. in psychology from Dartmouth in 1997. She serves as a professor of psychology at Rice University, where she has worked since 1998. In 2002, she was a visiting scholar in Stanford University's psychology department.

Hebl has won more than a dozen awards for teaching and her work on issues of gender and diversity, including Rice University's George R. Brown Prize for Superior Teaching (2002, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2012); the Distinguished Teaching Contributions Award from the Society of Industrial/Organizational Psychology (2008); Rice's Julia Miles Chance Prize for Excellence in Teaching (2005); and The Sage Award for Scholarly Contribution (2014), a lifetime award from the "Gender and Diversity in Organizations" Division at the Academy of Management. She was nominated for CASE Professor of the Year in 2009 and 2014, which honors the "most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country – those who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students."

Hebl has received research grants from the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation and the National Cancer Institute. She is an applied psychologist whose research focuses on issues related to diversity and discrimination. Specifically, she examines subtle ways in which discrimination is displayed and how such displays might be remediated by individuals and/or organizations.

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.

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 16,000 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 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.