MTU professor receives top state honor

LANSING — Michigan Technological University Professor Thomas Werner has been recognized as one of the state’s three recipients of the Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year award, which recognizes the “outstanding contributions and dedication exhibited by the faculty from Michigan’s 15 public universities to the education of undergraduate students,” according to a Michigan Association of State Universities news release.

Werner is associate professor of genetics and developmental biology at Michigan Technological University, where he has taught since 2010. He received his M.S. in Biology from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany and his Ph.D. at Umea Center for Molecular Pathogenesis in Sweden.

Werner teaches four different classes at Michigan Tech that he designed himself and is consistently ranked in the top 10% of instructors at the school. His “passion for his work is infectious” and he has won the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award twice during his tenure, a feat that only three other faculty members have accomplished in 70 years, the release states.

“Dr. Thomas Werner represents the best of teaching, research, and dedication to student success,” said Dr. Daniel J. Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, in the release. “His approach to designing and teaching classes symbolizes the excellence in higher education for which Michigan’s public universities are globally renowned.”

Nearly $900,000 in funding has been allocated to Werner for his research on the evolution and development of complex color patterns and mushroom toxin resistance in fruit flies, and he supported his undergraduate research assistants with grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.

“As he has mentored more than 100 undergraduates in his research lab, it is evident that Werner’s teaching has a lasting effect on students. He offers research opportunities in his lab to all students in his courses, even though he teaches some of the largest courses in the biological sciences department,” the release states. “He also encourages students to serve as lab managers, which gives them leadership experience they can bring with them into the post-graduation realm. Dr. Werner continuously puts the needs of his students first and works with them individually to help them accomplish their goals whilst at Michigan Tech.”

He also discovered a new species of fruit fly on a trip in the Upper Peninsula and named it Amiota tessa, after his undergraduate student Tessa Steenwinkel. Werner has also co-authored a two-book series of free, open-source textbooks on fruit flies with Steenwinkel. These open source textbooks have been downloaded on all seven continents, helping students everywhere keep textbook fees down.

“Dr. Werner is a passionate teacher and at the same time he is compassionate toward his students. This unique combination makes him a sought-after instructor among our student body. He is very knowledgeable in his field of specialization and immensely enthusiastic. His lectures are always well prepared and are given in a manner that is easy to follow and comprehensible. He genuinely cares about how well students understand the material, which is made clear by the sheer amount of time he spends preparing his classes,” said Jacqueline Huntoon, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at Michigan Technological University, in the release.

The two other 2021 recipients include Dr. Yunus Zeytuncu of University of Michigan-Dearborn and Dr. Tami Sivy of Saginaw Valley State University.


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