Baylor campus

Baylor University named Neil K. Garg, a UCLA chemistry professor, as the Robert Foster Cherry Award winner. 

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

Baylor University named the recipient of a lucrative prize given every two years to a leading academic with a knack for teaching.

Neil K. Garg, professor of chemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles, won the $250,000 award that accompanies the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, the only national award presented by a college or university recognizing instruction in higher education.

Garg was chosen over two other finalists, Heidi G. Elmendorf of Georgetown University and Clinton O. Longenecker of the University of Toledo.

In October, he presented his lecture, “How Organic Chemistry Became One of UCLA’s Most Popular Classes,” as part of the finalist process. He explained how he made his organic chemistry class more than a “weed-out” course, according to a Baylor press release.

Garg said he visited Baylor a few years ago for research purposes and interacted with graduate students.

“This was my first time at Baylor with a focus on undergraduate education, and it was awesome,” he said. “The students were great, the faculty was great and the campus was beautiful. … I just had a great time, all around. I’m excited to work with the faculty, see what the faculty does differently and what I can learn from. And, of course, I’m very eager to work with the students at Baylor.”

Michael Thompson, chair of the Cherry Award Committee, said Garg is an ideal recipient of the award, adding that Garg lives in a student residence hall.

“We were really impressed in the way he can develop relationships with students and be an outstanding researcher and teacher,” Thompson said. “That’s an impressive combination. That’s what we’re looking for at Baylor as well. We want top scholars who can also really bring a lot to the classroom. That’s what we find — that the really, really good people are both good teachers and good researchers.”

Garg is no stranger to outside-the-box teaching methods.

He and six former students developed a smartphone app called “Backside Attack,” where users play a game and learn how a certain chemical reaction is created. He and his two daughters also published “The Organic Coloring Book” in 2017.

Garg is expected to teach at Baylor in the spring 2019 semester, per the university. UCLA’s chemistry department will also receive $25,000. The two other finalists, Elmendorf and Longenecker, receive $15,000 each and $10,000 each for their home departments.

Phillip Ericksen joined the Tribune-Herald in March 2015 as a sports copy editor. That November, he joined the news team. He has covered higher education, city hall, politics and crime.

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