Two College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty have been honored with Cassling Family Awards for their outstanding teaching practices.
John Lajoie, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, received the Cassling Family Faculty Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching, and Cason Murphy, assistant professor in the Department of Music and Theatre, received the Cassling Family Faculty Award for Early Achievement in Teaching.
The Cassling Family Awards were established by Dr. Randal Cassling and Lori Cassling to recognize outstanding faculty members who are at various stages in their undergraduate teaching careers. Earlier this year, Stephanie Madon, professor of psychology, received the Cassling Innovation Award for her interdisciplinary collaborations with faculty and students across campus and for her innovative research and teaching practices.
Lajoie joined Iowa State’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1997 after earning a bachelor’s degree in physics from Iowa State and several advanced physics degrees from Yale University. His research focuses on fundamental nuclear physics. Lajoie studies the interactions between protons and neutrons. He also researches how the mass of the visible matter in the universe arises from these interactions. Lajoie conducts research at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory, using ultrarelativistic collisions of gold ions.
While his research profoundly impacts technological advancements, Lajoie understands that teaching students about the wonders of the universe is equally important.
“I try to meet students, especially undergraduates, where they are and not expect them to approach science like a scientist. Everyone is born with a curiosity about the world around them and a desire to understand how things work,” he said. “Truly understanding things in detail requires science and math, but when I am teaching I always try to remember to step back from the complexity and details and try to communicate what the math is really saying. I want students to still feel that sense of wonder and insight when they gain a small glimpse into how the universe works.”
Lajoie is grateful for the Cassling family’s generosity.
“I would like to thank the Cassling Family Foundation for making this award possible, and for recognizing my work in undergraduate education,” Lajoie said. “Recognition like this is greatly appreciated and motivates me even more to make sure that I am giving back, not only to the scientific community but to society as a whole.”
Lajoie will use the funds from this award to author a textbook for graduate students studying the future Electron Ion Collider facility that is being built at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Murphy joined Iowa State’s Department of Music and Theatre in 2018 after earning a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from UCLA and a master’s degree in theatre directing from Baylor University.
Each semester, he teaches hands-on studio classes in acting and musical theatre, as well as a performing arts lecture to more than 100 students. In addition to his classroom responsibilities, Murphy directs at least one theatre performance each academic year and regularly develops new student-centered productions.
Since students from all majors are involved with theatre at Iowa State, Murphy helps students apply the theory of theatre to their future careers, no matter what those may be.
“My goal is to prepare each of my students for their ‘stage’––that is, any venue in which, as professionals and citizens, they will present themselves and their work for consideration,” Murphy said. “As an interdisciplinary field, the practice and theory of theatre can reach every student at ISU.”
Murphy appreciates the Cassling family’s recognition of his teaching.
“This award validates my teaching approach—leading with humanity, positivity, enthusiasm and a deep care for my students’ academic and personal well-being in order to create a classroom ‘community’ that is vibrant, alive and allows multiple definitions of ‘success,’” Murphy said. “This award is also reflective of the supportive environment I have found at Iowa State and in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Music and Theatre.”
Murphy will use the funds from this award to participate in theatre experiences that will enhance his students’ learning opportunities.
“My focus is to put these generous funds toward active experiences that will provide further exploration of the craft, training and connections that will amplify the knowledge and experiences I bring to my students in the lecture hall, the studio and our rehearsal rooms,” Murphy said.