Baylor Honors Distinguished Pepperdine Biologist With Robert Foster Cherry Award For Great Teaching

Jan. 16, 2008
News Photo 4370Dr. Stephen D. Davis

Baylor University media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

Pepperdine University media contact: Jerry Derloshon, director of public relations and news, (310) 506-6485

WACO, Texas - Baylor University has named Dr. Stephen D. Davis, Distinguished Professor of Biology at Pepperdine University, as the 2008 recipient of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, the only national teaching award - with the single largest monetary reward of $200,000 - presented by a college or university to an individual for exceptional teaching.

"Baylor University is pleased to recognize one of the world's great teachers, Dr. Stephen Davis, as the winner of Baylor's 2008 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching," said Baylor President John M. Lilley. "Baylor has long been nationally recognized as a University that places a premium on exceptional teaching. We are pleased every day to expose our students to the tremendously gifted instructors and researchers that compose our faculty. The Cherry Award permits us to extend that experience by bringing to our campus some of the world's greatest teachers and mentors. We congratulate Dr. Davis as our 2008 Cherry Award recipient and we look forward to welcoming him to Baylor University in the fall."

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

As the 2008 Cherry Award recipient, Davis will receive the $200,000 award, plus $25,000 for his home department at Pepperdine. He will teach in residence at Baylor during fall 2008. A renowned expert on plant adaptations to fire, freezing and drought, Davis visited the Baylor campus in October 2007 to present a Cherry finalist lecture on "Undergraduate Research, Celebrating the Spice of Science." (View streaming video of Davis's Cherry Lecture here.)

"The applicant pool for the 2008 Robert Foster Cherry Award was outstanding this year," said Dr. Heidi J. Hornik, professor of art history at Baylor and chair of the Robert Foster Cherry Award Committee. "The October campus visits of all three finalists were beneficial to students, faculty and the greater Baylor community. The Cherry Award committee was greatly impressed with Dr. Davis' ability to integrate superior teaching with undergraduate research techniques in the classroom. We believe that Dr. Davis embodies the characteristics of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching and the mission of Baylor University."

"I am greatly honored and humbled to be a recipient of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching," Davis said. "This is a great tribute not only to me personally but also to the concept of promoting undergraduate research as a form of teaching. Teaching is an honorable and rewarding profession on its own account. An added benefit accrues when the students you teach, exceed expectations, engage in the personal discovery of new knowledge through original research, and reveal to you, the teacher, new insight into the subject being taught.

"I have been most fortunate and privileged to have had good models of teaching in my life, a pedagogical support system at my home institution, inspiring teaching colleagues and a remarkable lineage of students, who have met and exceeded the challenges I have given them to advance scientific knowledge" he said.

In addition to Davis, two other Cherry Award finalists were named: Dr. George E. Andrews, The Evan Pugh Professor of Mathematics at Pennsylvania State University, and Rudy Pozzatti, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at Indiana University at Bloomington. The Cherry finalists received $15,000 each, while their home department also received $10,000 for the development of teaching skills.

About Baylor University's Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching

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 2010 Cherry Award nomination process, visit The nomination deadline for the 2010 award is Nov. 1, 2008.

About Dr. Stephen D. Davis, Distinguished Professor of Biology at Pepperdine University

Davis received a bachelor's degree in 1967 and his master's degree in 1968, both in biology from Abilene Christian University. He earned his doctorate in 1974 from Texas A&M University, where he also worked as an instructor in botany. He joined the faculty at Pepperdine in 1974.

Much of Davis's research centers on plant physiological ecology or the ability of plants to adapt to fire, freezing and drought. He has written numerous book chapters and scholarly articles for such publications as Nature, The American Journal of Botany and the International Journal of Plant Science and Ecology.

In 2002, Davis was awarded Pepperdine's largest-ever National Science Foundation grant - a three-year, $300,000 grant to study chaparral, the most abundant native plant life in Southern California. That same year Davis was honored as Pepperdine Professor of the Year.

Davis also has received recognition for his post-fire ecology research, including the 2007-08 Mountains Restoration Trust Award and Task Awards in 2003-04 and 2007-09 from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Since 1989, Davis and his biology faculty colleagues also have received a continuing NSF grant to fund Pepperdine's Summer Undergraduate Research in Biology (SURB) program.

The Harriet and Charles Luckman Distinguished Teaching Fellow from 1990-95, Davis also has served as a visiting scholar at Stanford University, UCLA and the University of Utah. His honors include membership in Phi Sigma Biological Sciences Honor Society and Golden Key National Honor Society. In addition, he is a member of the American Society for the Advancement of Science, Council on Undergraduate Research Botanical Society of America, Ecological Society of America, and American Institute of Biological Science.

(An audio interview with Davis about the Cherry Award is available here.)

About Baylor University

Baylor University, a private Christian university and a nationally ranked liberal arts institution, is classified as a research university with "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. This blends with Baylor's international reputation for educational excellence built upon the faculty's commitment to teaching, scholarship and interdisciplinary research to produce outstanding graduates.

The university, chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, offers 150 undergraduate, 76 master, 22 doctoral and juris doctor degree programs through its 11 academic units. While 80 percent of the student body come from Texas, the 735-acre campus in Waco welcomes students from all 50 states and 70 countries.

For more information, visit

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