The 2011 Genetics Society of America Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education: Peter Bruns
Bauerle, Cynthia, Banerjee, Utpal, Genetics
IT is a common sight at many life science education meetings across the nation to find Peter Bruns listening in with rapt attention to a discussion of a new pedagogical tool or, more likely, the personal triumph of a set of students whom he has never met. Then comes the characteristic twinkle in his eyes, the broad grin, the rubbing of palms and the final exclamation, "That's fantastic!" It is obvious that this is a man who loves education, loves educational innovation, and cares as much about hearing about the successes of individuals as he does about the efforts of institutions.
For his extensive contribution to life science education, Peter Bruns is this year's recipient of the Elizabeth W. Jones Award of the Genetics Society of America. Named for Beth Jones, long-time editor of Genetics and avid supporter of genetics education, the Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education recognizes individuals or groups who have had a significant and sustained impact on genetics education at any level from K-12 through graduate school and beyond. Peter Bruns is distinguished in having made a difference across all these levels. Bruns received his A.B. in Zoology from Syracuse University and his Ph.D. in Cell Biology from the University of Illinois. He joined the genetics faculty at Cornell University in 1969 and over the next 30 years rose through the ranks to ultimately become Director of the Biological Sciences division. In 2001, he took on the position of Vice President of Grants and Special Programs at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), overseeing the development of numerous new initiatives in science education.
Bruns conducted pioneering research early on with the noted biologist Dave Nanney, characterizing immobilization antigens in Tetrahymena thermophilus. In his laboratory at Cornell University, Brunsmaintained an active research program in the genetics and molecular biology of Tetrahymena, through which he introduced dozens of students to the excitement of research and discovery. David Asai, Director of Science Education at HHMI, has known Peter since his early research days and says that "Peter's research provided ways to 'tame' Tetrahymena so that its genetics are tractable and can be exploited. If we had to summarize Peter's research in one word, it would be 'enabling.' One of Peter's early studies showed that Tetrahymena mating requires two distinct stages prior to cell coupling: initiation and costimulation. I think that is a good metaphor for Peter's leadership in science education: he initiated a number of important programs and he understood that program success depends on the interest and preparation of all of the partners."
During his first 20 years on the Cornell faculty, Bruns was focused mostly on running his research laboratory, but that shifted in 1989 when he was charged with finding out what Cornell should do to make science education better. "That drove me to concentrate on the idea that we in higher education needed to think about science education in a more organized fashion," says Bruns, who coordinated Cornell's application for its first HHMI science education grant and spent the next 11 years directing HHMI-funded education programs on that campus. One of those programs focused on opening research opportunities up to undergraduate students and bringing research students together so they could talk about what they were doing. Bruns also played a pivotal role in starting the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, a professional development program that still serves science teachers across New York State.
After 31 years at Cornell, Bruns came to HHMI where he began his tenure as Vice President for Grants and Special Programs, directing the expansion of programming that aimed to improve science education at colleges and universities across the United States. Bruns brought with him a solid track record as a prolific research scientist and creative science educator and quickly established a reputation for applying scientific approaches to pursuing tough questions in science education. …