Distinguished Alumni Award


Robert E. Yager 53MS, 57PhD

2009 Achievement Award

Robert E. Yager, emeritus professor of science education at the University of Iowa, has transformed the way science is taught in schools worldwide.

After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in biology, Yager earned his master's (1953) and doctorate (1957) degrees in plant physiology from the University of Iowa. Then, in a UI career that spanned more than 50 years, he worked his way up from botany teaching assistant to become one of the country's most distinguished and visionary science education professors.

In his research, Yager discovered that the traditional methods of teaching science didn't hold students' attention. In place of memorization and uninspired lectures, he developed a new way of teaching that encourages students to ask questions and explore their world. He also advocated that science teachers at all levels should undergo rigorous preparation and deepen their focus. This new approach helps bring science to life for students, while sparking their creativity and critical thinking skills.

Yager has left an imprint on science education not only through his research and scholarship, but also through contributions such as the Iowa Chautauqua Program. In this partnership with area education agencies, he has trained thousands of K-12 science teachers across Iowa in the methods he first developed at the UI. This model has inspired similar teacher preparation programs across the U.S., as well as annual workshops for Korean science teachers.

Yager's influence is widely felt far beyond the University of Iowa and the state of Iowa. His graduate students—inspired by his example and his mentoring—have carried forth his vision both nationally and abroad.

Since 1971, when he received special recognition for his leadership from the National Association of Biology Teachers, Yager has earned the acclaim and admiration of his peers. Included in his many honors and awards are the Michael J. Brody Award, presented by the UI Faculty Senate in 2001 for his service to the university, a Distinguished Service Award in 2005 from the Iowa Science Teachers Section of the Iowa Academy of Science, and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Northern Iowa.

Indeed, Yager's service to his profession has been exemplary. He has led his peers as a past chair of the Science Education Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he has also served as president of numerous professional societies, including the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, the National Association for Research in Teaching, the National Science Teachers Association, the School Science and Mathematics Association, and the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Though Yager retired from the UI in 2006, he remains active in science education, championing the causes that have reshaped the lives of teachers and students. He currently serves as the co-principal investigator in a science education research project supported by the National Science Foundation that examines the influence of teacher preparation programs on teacher performance and student achievement.

With his rich contributions to the field of science education, Robert Yager has earned the University of Iowa an international reputation for excellence. Moreover, his innovative teaching methods leave a lasting legacy that will imbue future generations with a lifelong passion for science.

Yager is a member of the UI Alumni Association's Old Capitol Club and the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.


About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.


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