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Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008

Sara C. Pryor

President's Award

Professor of Atmospheric Science
Department of Geography
College of Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1995
B.S., University of East Anglia, 1989
Ph.D., University of East Anglia, 1992

"She is a guiding force for undergraduate and graduate students, leading and inspiring by her enthusiasm, humor, and academic excellence."

--Scott Robeson, Professor and Chair, Department of Geography, Indiana University Bloomington

Students in Professor Sara Pryor's atmospheric science courses comment that they look forward to her class because they enjoy hearing her British accent and witty comments, but her effectiveness as a teacher, they say, is due to her zeal for making any topic interesting. "Dr. Pryor is bubbling with enthusiasm," one student writes, "which helps stimulate my interest and concentration on the topic at hand!" Another student, Catherine Callahan, says that at the end of some of Pryor's lectures, she has to fight the urge to applaud.

Part of her teaching philosophy is making the learning process interactive and relevant. She uses real, not fabricated, data and situations as examples in class and integrates computer activities into her lessons. She consistently updates her curriculum to reflect recent scientific findings and uses interesting facts or stories to spark students' interest.

Pryor has taught eight different courses since she arrived at Indiana University Bloomington 12 years ago; five of those courses she introduced to the IU curriculum. "I embrace the ethos that our curriculum should constantly evolve to better serve our students and respond to technological and societal changes," Pryor says. For example, to make the IU atmospheric science program compliant with National Weather Service standards, she developed a new course called Weather Forecasting and Analysis.

Pryor emphasizes the importance of challenging her students to perform to their potential and recognizing their achievements. She makes an effort, however, to combat grade inflation, giving students the grades they earned. "She is firm," says a student, "but, by all means, fair and is a good influence on her students."

Her classroom teaching is informed by her broad-ranging research in atmospheric science. Department of Geography Chair Scott Robeson calls Pryor one of the "most productive research scientists at IU," noting that she inspires her graduate students to be equally productive. Her research includes collecting data and developing models on topics such as particle dry deposition, particle nucleation events, and carbon and nitrogen dynamics in forests. In 2007 she was the local host for a workshop at IU on regional climate variability, predictability, and change in the Midwest.

In addition to her teaching, Pryor directs the atmospheric science program in the Department of Geography and serves as chair of the advisory board of the Anthropological Center for Training (ACT) and Research on Global Environmental Change at IU Bloomington. She also acts as a liaison for IU Bloomington with the National Weather Service and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

As director of graduate studies in the Department of Geography, Pryor coordinates job- and internship-related activities for undergraduate and graduate students. She oversees and administers more internships than any other faculty member in the department. Many of these interns go on to professional positions in atmospheric science, while others go to graduate school in the field. Pryor has also developed a detailed resource database that monitors and organizes grant and professional development opportunities for IU students. One of her goals as director of graduate studies is to attract a more ethnically diverse group of students.

Her approachable demeanor makes it easy for students to ask for advice. A graduate student in the department, Elizabeth Mack, says that "her ability to tap into and understand each student's needs and abilities is truly a remarkable gift." Pryor has been the primary supervisor for five master's students, two Ph.D. students, and two postdoctoral fellows, and currently supervises two master's students and two Ph.D. students. Bradley Lane, a current Ph.D. candidate in the department, says that Pryor has "an indefatigable drive to provide her students with the best and brightest of opportunities."

Justin Schoof, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Resources at Southern Illinois University, sums up Pryor's gifts for teaching: "Her delivery of course materials combines the scientific rigor of the subject matter with a distinctive humor to produce an environment in which students become excited about the learning process." A recent Ph.D. graduate from IU, Schoof says he owes much of his success to the mentoring of Professor Sara Pryor.