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University Relations

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Dec. 13, 2007
Contact: Mike Krings, University Relations, (785) 864-8860.

KU alumna named Minnesota Professor of the Year

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas alumna with a passion for bringing excitement to the classroom has been named Minnesota Professor of the Year.

Ellen Brisch, who earned her doctorate in physiology and cell biology from KU in 1995, was one of 46 educators honored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. There were more than 375 nominees nationwide.

Brisch, a professor of biology at Minnesota State University-Moorhead since 1999, is known for using unorthodox methods to help make learning about challenging topics fun. Brisch has come to chemistry lectures wearing a periodic table of the elements T-shirt and has cast students in impromptu plays about the interactions between molecules and cells. The passion for the subject comes naturally.

“One of the things that students like so much about my teaching is that I just love biology,” Brisch said. “My time at KU was certainly where I made the transition from biology major to biologist. The excitement and dedication to the field was modeled for me by numerous faculty members I was fortunate to have classes from and by my dissertation committee members. Just a few notables who really influenced me during my time at KU were Dr. Kathy Suprenant, Dr. William Dentler, Dr. Richard Himes, Dr. Paul Kitos, Dr. Sally Frost-Mason (former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at KU and now president of the University of Iowa) and most certainly Dr. Charles Wittenbaugh, who gave me my first opportunity.”

Brisch’s area of expertise is developmental biology. Her research examines mitochondria and their impact on disease and environmental toxins and their role in human health.

“There were so many wonderful aspects to my graduate time at KU,” Brisch said. “But perhaps the most important things were the opportunities I had to begin learning how to teach science and reach both biology majors and non-majors, and learning how to be independent, resourceful and think on my feet. At KU I was given the freedom to work out a very new project while in Dr. Suprenant’s lab. While this was certainly challenging at times, it really prepared me for my current success. Sticking through a hard project requires not just discipline, but a love of the material.”

In addition to her teaching and research duties, Brisch is actively involved in her university community. She recently chaired the “Dragon Core Committee,” the university’s general education curriculum committee; served on a task force that led the school’s transition from a liberal arts focus to a general education curriculum; was a member of the Training Our Campus Against Racism and women’s studies program committees; and was a faculty adviser to a campus biology honor society and the women’s lacrosse team.

Kathy Suprenant, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences at KU, said she recognized Brisch’s talent and potential when Brisch was a student working in her lab.

“Ellen Brisch was the most energetic, passionate and fun-to-be-around graduate student that has ever worked in my lab,” Suprenant said. “She thrived on teaching the undergraduates how to do experiments and it was very clear that she was going to be an outstanding educator.”


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