UIC scientist wins national fellowship for excellence in teaching

Max Berkelhammer

Max Berkelhammer (Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

University of Illinois at Chicago climate scientist Max Berkelhammer is among the first recipients of the Excellence in Teaching Fellowship, a new program developed by Course Hero and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to support the nation’s early career faculty members.

Designed for emerging scholars working toward tenure, the fellowship aims to support an educator’s balance between scholarly excellence and commitment to outstanding undergraduate teaching practice.

Berkelhammer, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at UIC, and four other members of the inaugural cohort will each receive a one-year, $40,000 fellowship, most of which will fund graduate assistant support with the remainder intended for research and travel.

“This fellowship was created to honor teachers who go above and beyond what the profession calls for to find innovative ways to teach students lessons that stick with them for a lifetime,” said Andrew Grauer, co-founder and CEO of Course Hero. “This inaugural class of recipients embodies these values of excellence and innovation in teaching, expanding the walls of the classroom and opening the minds of their students to new ways of learning.”

Berkelhammer’s research and teaching focus on the interactions between the land surface and atmosphere, with an emphasis on the global carbon and water cycles. His work aims to clarify the natural and anthropogenic processes that influence the atmospheric branch of the water cycle. His lab group at UIC, the Atmosphere, Climate and Ecosystems Lab, has studied these interactions across the globe.

The fellowship will support a graduate student to develop software and labs for data analysis and equipment for sensor development, which all would be available to multiple classes for years to come. It will also assist Berkelhammer’s creation of new Chicago-centric curriculum focusing on urban atmosphere, a topic closely aligned with his research, where the newly developed research tools will be implemented.

“The exercises will involve students utilizing new technology for atmospheric measurements and empowering them to address a topical issue through fundamental science,” he said.

As an earth science professor, Berkelhammer breaks down preconceived notions about the geosciences field, which involves not only the study of rocks but also climate change, air pollution and sustainable resource management.

“The discipline increasingly demands skill sets such as computer modeling, big data analysis, and quantitative field and laboratory measurements,” Berkelhammer said. “More than this, the field needs to diversify its cohorts, as geology now is as much about cities and urban runoff as it is about mountains and streams.”

Berkelhammer, who received a 2018 Silver Circle Award that honors UIC’s best teachers, also has courses involving earth systems and stable isotope geochemistry. In addition, he is involved with other department faculty in a course on environmental earth science issues relevant to Chicago’s economy and history.

His class with Miquel Gonzalez-Meler, UIC professor of biological sciences, which explores the global implications of the Arctic becoming viable for commercial shipping, will culminate in late August with the Northwest Passage Project, a multi-week research cruise through the Arctic where students will make atmospheric and ecological measurements.

Berkelhammer, who joined UIC in 2014, received a Ph.D. in earth sciences from the University of Southern California and postdoctoral training in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences department at the University of Colorado, Boulder.