Students present Dr. Vennerstrom with Alvin Earle Award

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public affairs | April 18, 2007

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UNMC Student Senate President Jonathan Henning presents Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., with the 2006 Alvin Earle Award.
Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., knows medicinal chemistry isn't easy.

But, he's committed to making sure students learn the material.

Recently, UNMC students applauded the professor of pharmaceutical sciences in UNMC's College of Pharmacy by presenting him the 2006 Alvin M. Earle Outstanding Health Sciences Educator Award.

"As a professor of medicinal chemistry, he sometimes has a tough audience," his student nominator said. "But because of his unique and effective lecture style, his lectures are well attended and his sections are highly anticipated by students. "

The Alvin Earle award -- the only award initiated and given by UNMC students -- is presented annually to an instructor who demonstrates sincere interest in his or her discipline, involvement with students and excellence in the quality of instruction.

Alvin Earle award recipients

  • 2005 - Joyce Black, Ph.D.
  • 2004 - Eric Scholar, M.D.
  • 2003 -- Carol Lomneth, Ph.D.
  • 2002 -- not awarded
  • 2001 -- Robert Binhammer, Ph.D.
  • 2000 -- not awarded
  • 1999 -- Kurtis Cornish, Ph.D.
  • 1998 -- Richard MacDonald, Ph.D.
  • 1997 -- Al Stammers
  • 1996 -- Robert Norgren, Ph.D.
  • 1995 -- Gilbert Willett, Ph.D.
  • 1994 -- Shail Saxena, M.D.

  • As professor of pharmaceutical sciences in UNMC's College of Pharmacy, Dr. Vennerstrom joked that he hears a gamut of student comments from "we really enjoy Dr. Vennerstrom's lectures" to "taking medicinal chemistry from Dr. Vennerstrom is like drinking Drano."

    Dr. Vennerstrom "expects a high degree of attention to detail from students," his student nominator said. "This forces us, as students, to begin to form the ability to notice even the smallest deviations from the norms and gives us a better basis for clinical judgment."

    UNMC Student Senate President Jonathan Henning recognized the eight Alvin Earle nominees during a luncheon Tuesday and read excerpts from their nomination letters.

    "It's inspiring to read all of your stories and your CVs are laudable," he told the students and faculty nominees.

    As the award recipient, Dr. Vennerstrom receives a $500 honorarium and will have his name added to the Alvin M. Earle plaque in the Wittson Hall lobby.

    "A big part of Dr. Vennerstrom's appeal to students is his ability to so easily co-exist as an unassuming lecturer and a brilliant scientist," his student nominator said. "His humility makes his lectures tangible to students. He is one of those rare jewels in the educational system who manages to translate his expanse of knowledge.into manageable pieces of information that students can use and retain."

    In addition to serving as a faculty adviser of the Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International, Dr. Vennerstrom and his research team have an antimalarial drug candidate undergoing clinical trials that, if approved, could offer a more effective and less costly antimalarial drug.

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    Alvin Earle nominees, from left, Terry Hexum, Ph.D., Joseph Norman, Ph.D., Gilbert Willett, Ph.D., Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., Adah Earle, Gloria Borgstahl-Kramer, Ph.D., Gordon Todd, Ph.D., and Myron Toews, Ph.D. Not pictured: Kerry Bernal, M.D.
    Also nominated for the 2006 Alvin M. Earle award, along with excerpts from student nomination letters, were:

    Gilbert Willett, Ph.D., physical therapy education, School of Allied Health Professions -- "Dr. Willett is an inspiration to the students. With his broad knowledge base and down to earth personality, he makes classes a little less intimidating which is most beneficial to his students ... He is committed to the students learning, providing extra sessions for difficult topics and is always easy to approach with questions outside the classroom."

    Gloria Borgstahl-Kramer, Ph.D., Eppley Institute -- "Dr. Borgstahl-Kramer has served as a member of the Eppley Institute since 2002. In this time she has brought structural biology at Eppley and UNMC to a level that has never been reached before. She has worked tirelessly to develop a new program for incoming students through the GAIN fellowships and is the primary P.I. of the Nebraska Center for Structural Biology. Overall, she is one of the most caring professors UNMC has."

    Gordon Todd, Ph.D., genetics, cell biology & anatomy, College of Medicine -- "Dr. Todd has been on the forefront of technology for the medical center and has played a pivotal role in the incorporation of Internet-accessible screens being placed around the lab tables of each dissection group in the anatomy lab. The addition of these screens helps facilitate learning in a modern fashion. Dr. Todd shows students that he cares about their comprehension of the material by donating much of his free time to help students with questions. He is a remarkable professor."

    Who was Dr. Earle?
    The late Alvin Earle joined UNMC in 1968 and taught neural sciences to students in all five of the existing colleges. During his tenure, he received numerous teaching awards. When he retired in 1994, the UNMC Student Senate established the award in his name to recognize outstanding teaching and mentoring. His wife, Adah, annually attends the Alvin Earle Award ceremony.

    Joseph Norman, Ph.D., physical therapy education, School of Allied Health Professions -- "Dr. Norman certainly is an example of an educator who shows his compassion for those around him, has a high competence in the field and physical therapy, and shows confidence in his skills and in himself ... His knowledge base is broad because he keeps up on current research as well as completes research of his own. His example of lifelong learning also is helpful for our future practice. Teachers like Dr. Norman set the standard high and compel us to continue to learn after graduation."

    Kerry Bernal, M.D., pathology/microbiology, College of Medicine -- "Dr. Bernal committed to turning a previously sporadic autopsy encounter into a mandatory, active learning experience. She re-organized the autopsy program to ensure second-year medical students would have opportunity to watch an autopsy in action, reflect upon the emotions/ethics of the experience through an online discussion board, engage in the pathological dissection and analyze the finalized autopsy report. Dr. Bernal made the experience into a holistic, thought-filled session ... In a profession where women represent only 10 percent of all department chairs, Dr. Bernal, as vice chairwoman for education, serves as a role model for the future generation of physicians."

    Myron Toews, Ph.D., pharmacology and experimental neuroscience, College of Medicine -- "Dr. Toews' dedication to teaching and research at UNMC is evident in his impressive record . His humorous and approachable teaching style has motivated students greatly, and his enthusiasm for education is obvious through student communication and flawless lecture slides. Despite his busy schedule, like every other researcher on campus, the respond time and content of his e-mail replies are outstanding. Outside the classroom and laboratory, Dr. Toews does not hesitate to take a few minutes and talk to students if they have questions."

    Terry Hexum, Ph.D., pharmacology and experimental neuroscience, College of Medicine -- "Dr. Hexum is a very dedicated teacher and mentor to all students at UNMC and has a genuine interest in their success and well being. His medical pharmacology lectures consist of very challenging pharmacology and yet, he is able to deliver this information to the student very effectively. Another outstanding quality of Dr. Hexum is that he is very open to suggestions by students. He respects students' opinions and comments on evaluations and actively works to meet many of these suggestions. Students of nearly every UNMC college are sure to gain from his excellent teaching skills."