Chris Palma, teaching professor of astronomy and astrophysics, was presented with the C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society during an event held on October 5, 2018. Credit: Nate Follmer
Chris Palma, teaching professor of astronomy and astrophysics and associate head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, has been honored with the 2018 C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society. Instituted in 1972 and named in honor of Clarence I. Noll, dean of the college from 1965 to 1971, the award is the highest honor for undergraduate teaching in the college. Students, faculty members, and alumni nominate outstanding faculty members who best exemplify the key characteristics of a Penn State educator, and a committee of students selects the award winners from the group of nominees. Palma was presented with the award during an event held on the University Park campus on October 5, 2018.
“I am really honored to win this award given how many faculty members dedicated to the highest quality teaching have won it in previous years,” said Palma. “It was especially humbling to hear that several students wrote statements on my behalf.”
Palma’s commitment to teaching and pedagogy is apparent to those who interact with him. One student nominator highlighted Palma’s dedication to involving students through questions and activities, “There was never a time when I thought my questions were unnecessary because Dr. Palma always tried to answer them to the best of his ability.”
In addition to regularly teaching courses in astronomy, Palma co-developed a course for Penn State undergraduate students who intend to teach elementary school or middle school. The course represented a culmination of more than 15 years of continuous learning about pedagogy in astronomy. Given his expertise in this area, Palma was also tasked with developing a new major in the department, partly aimed at students who might want to pursue K-12 teaching or informal science education, among other possible interests. In Fall 2013, the new “Planetary Science & Astronomy” major launched at Penn State, and several dozen students have graduated from this major since that time.
“I think that being a teaching faculty member and an advisor has really made me a better instructor,” said Palma. “Advisors learn so much about the day-to-day struggles students experience as they try to navigate their undergraduate years, and I think we all need to lead with empathy in all of our interactions with our students.”
Palma has also taught summer workshops in astronomy for K-12 science teachers since 2003 and was involved in the development of a new workshop curriculum for K-12 science teachers. He was part of a team that won and successfully completed a seven-year, $9 million award from the National Science Foundation to study astronomy learning in the middle grades and to provide professional development for K-12 science teachers.
Palma joined the Penn State faculty as a postdoctoral fellow in 2001 and soon after became one of the first employees of the Eberly College of Science Outreach Office. Prior to that he taught astronomy at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. He earned a master’s and doctoral degree in astronomy at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and bachelor’s degrees in astronomy and astrophysics and in physics in 1994 at Penn State.