University of Wisconsin-La Crosse biology professor Scott Cooper, who lives in rural Holmen, was surprised when he found out he was this year’s Wisconsin Professor of the Year. But he wasn’t shocked.
It’s the second year in a row a UW-L professor has been honored as the state’s Professor of the Year. History professor Victor M. Macias-Gonzalez was recognized last year. Cooper was also in the running for that award, so the announcement isn’t a surprise to him. But he is just one of many UW-L professors who do good work at the university, Cooper said, and the award speaks more to the high caliber of UW-L than his own achievements.
“I don’t think I do anything different than other faculty do,” he said. “But it is a nice recognition of what the faculty do every day here at UW-L.”
Cooper will be honored today in Washington, D.C., as state professor of the year, selected from nearly 400 top professors in the U.S. According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching website, the organization created the U.S. Professors of the Year Award Program in 1981 to increase awareness of the importance of undergraduate instruction at all types of higher education institutions.
Cooper is well-known at UW-L for his strong relationship with the students he instructs. Passionate about research, Cooper is also the UW-L director of undergraduate research and creativity.
As director, he coordinates undergraduate research and creative activities across the university, as well as the the annual spring undergraduate research symposium. This year, UW-L received more than $100,000 in grants to help support undergraduate research.
His passion for students and research is also apparent in his own teaching. Cooper’s blood-clotting research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and each semester he has about 20 students working with him in the laboratory. Working in teams of two to three students, there are eight to 10 projects going on at any given time.
“The part I like the most is working with students,” he said. “We kinda blur the lines between teaching and research. I think research is a really good teaching method for what they (students) are going to do when they leave here.”
Working with newer students is the most exciting aspect, Cooper said, as he gets to watch them come into their own. He likened it to a coach or orchestra conductor building up the football team or ensemble before a big game or performance.
“The fun part of research is making a new discovery,” he said. “Working with students, you get to see them making their own discoveries.”
Cooper stressed that he isn’t unique at UW-L — a lot of professors at the university share his passion for students. A humbling honor, last year’s and this year’s Wisconsin Professor of the Year awards shine a light on the university as a whole.
“This award reflects a lot on the quality of faculty here,” he said. “This won’t be the last time somebody here wins this award.”