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Biologists, educators recognize excellence in evolution education

The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) will recognize Leonard C. Yannielli, professor of biological sciences at Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) in Waterbury, Connecticut, with the 2009 Evolution Education Award during the NABT annual professional development conference to be held 11-14 November 2009 in Denver, Colorado.

The Evolution Education Award is cosponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). The award is presented in recognition of innovative classroom teaching and community education efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution. Professor Yannielli will receive a plaque, a $1,000 cash prize, and a set of resources provided by AIBS and BSCS to support the teaching of evolution.

"AIBS, BSCS and NABT are doing important work with this award as it says loud and clear that evolution education is important," said Yannielli. "I'm humbled to be recognized by peers and feel I'm sharing the honor with many educators who have toiled courageously under very difficult situations."

For over 41 years, Yannielli has been teaching biology courses that have placed emphasis on evolution and evolutionary origins. His microbiology courses, for example, highlight the evolutionary interplay between microbes, humans, and disease, thereby encouraging students to shed egocentric approaches to thinking about evolution. "Evolution is the central organizing principle of the biological sciences. Teaching with it is like having a built-in GPS system for navigating life patterns and processes, from what happened to the dinosaurs to the immune response to a microbial invasion," stated Yannielli.

"Students have had quite an impact on both my colleagues and me, having taught us that we need to be sensitive to those students holding religious viewslistening to students is important for effective evolution education," said Yannielli upon learning that he had been selected to receive the 2009 Evolution Education Award.

Yannielli began his career teaching evolution in a small-town public high school where he frequently encountered resistance from religious fundamentalists. After several years of working in the precollege arena, Yannielli moved on to NVCC. "I found community college teaching fertile ground for dovetailing all [my] goals," said Yannielli. In addition to teaching biology courses at NVCC, Yannielli has also developed innovative instructional materials and organized numerous discussions about evolution.

Yannielli has worked to educate colleagues across the academic disciplines about the importance of teaching evolution. He presented an active learning approach to evolution education at the University of Oxford and has initiated several panels on evolution education for faculty and students at NVCC. Dr. Bonnie Simon, a colleague at NVCC, said that Yannielli "epitomizes a creative, effective teacher who is dedicated to collaborating and promoting the accurate understanding of biological education."

Yannielli earned his bachelor's degree in zoology with a minor in chemistry from the University of Connecticut and has two master's degrees (one in science education and one in ecology) from Southern Connecticut State University.

Previous honors and awards for Yannielli include the United Way Community Service Award and a NVCC Merit Award for an evolution teaching initiative. Yannielli was also awarded an Earthwatch grant in 2001 that allowed him to work with Chilean colleagues to do field research and prevent the potentially detrimental introduction of non-native salmon on Navarino Island in Chile.


Contact: Susan Musante
202-628-1500 x249
American Institute of Biological Sciences

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