Published: Feb. 23, 2024

Amy Palmer, professor of biochemistry, recognized for revamping classroom experiences, championing diversity and striving to connect with students ‘beyond the course curriculum’

Amy Palmer, a biochemistry professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, has won the 2024 Cogswell Award for Inspirational Instruction.

Supported by a generous donation from Craig Cogswell, a three-time alumnus of CU Boulder, the award recognizes outstanding instruction in the college, honoring individuals for their inspirational qualities and teaching abilities. 

Palmer, who is faculty director of the Honors Program, joined the CU Boulder faculty in 2005. She holds a bachelor’s in chemistry from Dartmouth College, a master’s in education from Stanford University, and a PhD in biophysical chemistry from Stanford.

Amy Palmer with students in Kolkata, India

Amy Palmer (second from left), a CU Boulder professor of biochemistry and the 2024 Cogswell Award winner, met with students in Mumbai, India, in January. (Photo: Amy Palmer)

In letters of nomination, her students and colleagues praised her for adopting state-of-the-art science-teaching methods, launching a new biochemistry seminar course for first-year students, transforming how traditional courses are taught, and advancing the diversity of student populations.

Moreover, they said she genuinely cares about students, striving to get to know them personally and “connect with them beyond the course curriculum.”

“Professor Palmer is a phenomenal teacher and universally praised by students from all levels at CU for her outstanding teaching pedagogy, her commitment to students and her inspirational character,” four of her colleagues wrote.

In his nomination letter, one former student said: "The dedication she demonstrates through meticulously planned lessons, coupled with a dynamic teaching style, makes her classes both enjoyable and academically enriching. What truly distinguishes Amy is her inspirational impact on students. She goes beyond imparting knowledge; she instills a sense of curiosity and a desire for academic excellence. Amy's passion for the subject matter is infectious, motivating students to explore beyond the confines of the curriculum and develop a deeper understanding of the material."

A dedication to teaching

Another former student, now a PhD candidate at Harvard University, wrote that Palmer had inspired her inside and outside of the classroom. Several connections and collaborations resulted from Palmer’s “admirable generosity with her time,” the student said, adding:

“When I first met Professor Palmer, I was primarily interested in pursuing a career in medicine, but after engaging with Dr. Palmer and hearing about her training and current career, I was inspired to consider and ultimately pursue further training in academia. The lasting impact of Dr. Palmer’s guidance and inspiration on my training as a scientist cannot be overstated; it drives me forward still today.”

Teaching and mentoring students are two of my career passions. The opportunity to work with undergraduates and try to transform how we teach science is what drove me to become a professor. It is so rewarding to hear from students that this has had an impact on them.”

Given her accomplishments and praise from such students, her colleagues said, “It is no wonder that Professor Palmer is one of the most admired faculty members among our student body.”

Palmer said she was “deeply touched and honored” for both the nomination and the award. “Teaching and mentoring students are two of my career passions. The opportunity to work with undergraduates and try to transform how we teach science is what drove me to become a professor. It is so rewarding to hear from students that this has had an impact on them.”

Cogswell earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1970, followed by master’s degrees in education in 1979 and in educational psychological studies in 1984.

Cogswell retired from a long career as a high school social studies teacher, corporate educator and young-teacher mentor. He was named Colorado Teacher of the Year in 2000.

“I think university instructors always have the dilemma that their primary focus is research or writing, things like that,” he told the Colorado Arts and Sciences magazine in 2017. “To me, at the university level, when someone really works hard on being a dynamic, interesting or challenging teacher, that is something that should be acknowledged and rewarded.”

He said he is “overwhelmed” by the Palmer’s record, adding: “Professor Amy Palmer richly deserves the recognition.  She is clearly a knowledgeable and innovative teacher, creating new courses and learning structures.  Her ability to engage students in a meaningful way with difficult concepts is a special gift. 

“More importantly to me, she has encouraged  and supported her students with a variety of opportunities that address different learning styles and needs,” Cogswell said, adding that she shows “that special combination of energy, enthusiasm and talent that demonstrate teaching at its best.”

Top image: Amy Palmer and (background) a hippocampal neuron expressing a zinc FRET sensor (Image by Lynn Sanford of the Palmer Lab)

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