The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) recently awarded Jason Wiles, associate professor of biology, the Evolution Education Award. The award recognizes innovation in the classroom as well as community outreach, and includes a $1,000 cash prize and a year of membership to the organization.
“I am very deeply honored to be recognized in this way by NABT, as it is an indication that my efforts may have had a positive impact in an area that is truly important to me personally, and to science education in general,” Wiles says.
Wiles has been following NABT’s work and reading their journal, The American Biology Teacher, for over two decades. He notes, “I benefited a great deal from the organization long before I started making contributions of my own.”
Founded in 1938, the NABT supports science educators, with the goal of delivering high quality biological instruction across the country. It notes the importance of this subject as biological issues, from medical breakthroughs to species extinctions, become more prominent in the news.
The Evolution Education Award is particularly meaningful to Wiles due to his own educational experience in biology. Growing up in Arkansas, he learned little about evolution outside of anti-evolution propaganda. During his master’s work at Portland State University in Oregon, things changed:
“Everything I had formerly memorized about biology began to make sense as a unified whole with evolution as the explanatory framework,” he says. “I felt quite cheated in my prior educational experiences by not having been taught about the foundational concept of all of biology.”
Motivated to provide a more solid biological education than he received, Wiles makes evolution an overarching theme in the introductory biology courses he teaches at the University. Indeed, his syllabus begins with the following: “Evolution is the central and unifying concept of biology.”
Wiles’ strategy for teaching biology from an evolutionary perspective has led to many rewarding moments with his students, particularly where science and faith intersect. Aided by his background in in religious studies and as a former creationist, Wiles is uniquely positioned to help students reconcile these areas.
“Those kinds of intellectual pilgrimages are often difficult to navigate on one’s own, as I know from personal experience. I take these conversations very seriously and consider it a privilege to help students and others develop their understandings of evolution and its implications,” he says.
Outside of the classroom, Wiles organizes informal education activities in a variety of settings. In the past he has done outreach at K-12 schools and universities, as well as private and public organizations across the country. He also coordinates with colleagues to support outreach efforts in a wider range of institutions.
The Evolution Educator Award from NABT recognizes all of these contributions to improve students and the public’s understanding of evolution—and Wiles is in good company.
“Some of my personal heroes in the field have been recipients of this award,” he says. “Ever since graduate school, I have aspired to make the kind of contributions to the field that they were making”