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​Faculty Member Tony Gonzalez Earns President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award

​Faculty Member Tony Gonzalez Earns President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award

Tony Gonzalez, an associate professor of practice with the College of Natural Sciences' Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), has received a President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award.

Tony Gonzalez is an associate professor of practice.

The award recognizes great teaching of undergraduates and honors "educational innovators whose commitment and performance not only instruct, but inspire."

Gonzalez has led the Plant Pathways FRI stream for 12 years and also serves as the coordinator of the Advance Research Initiative (ARI), an off-shoot of the FRI that increases access to research experiences for upperclassmen that did not have an opportunity in the FRI. He is the first faculty member appointed to educate within FRI to win the prestigious campus teaching award. FRI is an award-winning program that allows first- and second-year students to have hands-on experiences with real-world research in theme-based streams.

"FRI is a game-changing experience for so many students," Gonzalez said. "It gets them in the lab and up close with science at such an early stage. It's an amazing thing to be a part of."

Gonzalez and his FRI students have been published in leading journals, including Nature Genetics, Plant and Cell Physiology and Developmental Biology.

"Research educators, like myself, are given a lot of leeway in setting the research agenda for the FRI labs," Gonzalez said. "This lets students follow the leads, ask questions and try things they might not be able to in a different setting."

The plant Pathways FRI Stream studies the regulatory genetics that control epidermal traits in plants, such has the expression of pigments, the differentiation of leaf hairs and the development of the seed. Besides using these traits to discover the genetics of plant development, this new knowledge can be used in biotechnology to enhance epidermal traits that are beneficial to crop plant growth and development, and to human health.

When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gonzalez and his students had to come up with new and innovative ways to continue the research experience while having limited or no access to the laboratory.

"It was a back-to-the-drawing-board kind of moment, but they did an amazing job coming up with new and innovative research proposals," Gonzalez said.

With all that he has seen in the lab and FRI stream over the last few years, Gonzalez is convinced that undergraduate students, even freshmen, are more capable in a research environment than most give them credit for.

"Most of academia thinks you need to be in graduate school before you get into research," Gonzalez said. "That's an artificial line. There is no reason to underestimate what undergad students can do. Give them the tools and the instructions and they will surprise you."

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Thursday, 29 September 2022

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