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Science with Style

Fiery explosions, smoking concoctions and nitrogen ice cream are all in a day’s work for UM chemistry Professor Garon Smith.

Smith, alternately known as G. Wiz when he instructs while wearing his purple cape and pointy hat, has long been one of UM’s most popular educators.

And now he has been named 2008 Montana Professor of the Year by two national organizations that promote teaching excellence  –  the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement of Education.

The U.S. Professors of the Year program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country  –  those who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students.

“Students volunteer testimonials about the quality and contagion of his teachings,”  wrote UM President George Dennison in nominating Smith for the prestigious award. “His teaching abilities, in a word, strike me as magical. I mean this quite literally, as any one of the hundreds of undergraduate students from varied disciplines who take his introductory Chemistry 151 course each semester can and do attest.”

Smith captures students’ attention with humorous incantations and fiery tricks that captivate them. Of equal importance, his colleagues confirm that students leave Smith’s course with a very solid understanding of chemistry and well prepared for advanced work.

When not teaching classes at UM, Smith tours elementary and high schools around the state, opening young minds to science. He participates in organized outreach tours throughout Montana to help recruit new students to the University.

Through the University Center for Teaching Excellence, Smith advises other faculty members on innovative ways to become more effective classroom instructors, a talent for which he has earned national acclaim from peers around the country. In 2004, he won the Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology Award presented during the International Conference on College Teaching and Learning.

His popularity in the classroom has won him several other teaching awards on and off campus as well, the most important of which the students themselves bestowed. In 2004, Smith won the coveted Most Inspirational Teacher of the Year Award from Silent Sentinel, a senior honor society, which asks graduating seniors to vote for the teacher who most inspired them during their undergraduate years at UM.