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Professor David Blank has been awarded the 2016 President's Award for
Outstanding Service. In announcing the award, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler wrote, “Your excellence is a model for your colleagues and co-workers to emulate. True to the mission of this great land-grant institution, you have done more than your share to make the University of Minnesota one of the preeminent institutions in the nation.
Among Blank’s significant contributions is the creation and development of an impactful outreach initiative—Energy and U. Working with Professors Marc Hillmyer and Frank Bates, and demonstration expert Joe Franek, the Energy and U show was created 10 years ago, in 2006. It started as a single performance for about 200 students and parents. The original idea was to introduce K-12 students to science and engineering through a series of scientific demonstrations focused on the transformation of energy. In addition to teaching the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, another major goal of the program is to present college as a future goal to students that have never considered it an option.
Under Blank’s leadership as Energy and U’s program director, content developer and performer, the show has grown into a full-scale production serving thousands of elementary school children every year. In 2014, he initiated a collaborative partnership with the Department of Theater Arts and Dance that has brought a professional quality to the show. The show is now performed in the Rarig Center for 16 days every year to an audience of more than 13,000 3rd grade through 6th grade students. The show has been performed for more than 50,000 students to date, and its positive reputation has spread rapidly with tens of thousands of students on the wait list.
Professor Marcus Dilliard is chair of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance: "I know of no other experience like Energy and U. It is a truly innovative blend of science and art. It is incredibly rewarding to know that our efforts will inspire more than a few of these young people to attend college. It matters not whether they become scientists or artists; David has created an event that inspires young minds. One of the most joyful experiences of my time as chair of Theatre Arts and Dance has been to watch these young people watching the demonstration. They not only watch, they participate actively and, at times, very vocally."
Through the generous contributions of its supporters, including funds from the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, the National Science Foundation, Medtronic, Schlumberger, John Deere and 3M Company, the Energy & U show provides transportation for the students and successfully serves underprivileged students from schools and communities that would otherwise be unable to participate. In 2015, 65 percent of the students were from underrepresented groups in the sciences and 65 percent of the students qualified for reduced cost or free lunch, an economic indicator that is strongly and inversely correlated with the likelihood of future college attendance.h, an economic indicator that is strongly and inversely correlated with the likelihood of future college attendance.
As Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUGS), Blank has enhanced the chemistry undergraduate teaching program. He provides exceptional service to undergraduate chemistry majors, College of Science & Engineering students, honors students as the honors adviser, and thousands of students from across the campus that take courses in the Chemistry Department. During his time as the DUGS, the number of chemistry majors has almost doubled and the program is now one of the largest chemistry degree granting programs in the country. He has improved the student experience through curricular additions, increased access to advanced courses, and comprehensive advising.
Over the last four years, Blank led one of the department’s largest curricular development projects, redesigning the first two years of chemistry for students with interests in the life sciences. With thousands of students enrolled annually, the seven introductory and sophomore level chemistry courses, of which three are laboratory courses, are expected to become one of the most highly subscribed sequences at the University. Working with Professor Paul Siliciano, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Physics, Blank led a group of faculty in the Department of Chemistry and College of Biological Sciences to design an all-new chemistry sequence of lectures and laboratories specifically tailored for students interested in the life sciences, focusing on reactions that take place in living cells. It will launch in fall 2016.
Blank earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was also a post-doctoral research fellow. He joined the Department of Chemistry in 2000, and was promoted to full professor in 2014. He has received some of the University’s most prestigious awards for teaching, including the Horace T. Morse Award for Undergraduate Education, and the Charles E. Bowers Faculty Teaching Award. Earlier this year, Blank was honored by with the 2016 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service by the College of Science and Engineering (CSE), which also recognized his outstanding service to the University.
Blank will be honored in front of the Board of Regents, Friday, May 13, and at a reception at Eastcliff, Thursday, June 16.