Sandra Abell was 6 years old when she won her first award. The prize was a case of Coca-Cola, a pair of roller skates and a gift certificate to a Ben Franklin five-and-dime store. The reason? She captured 111 fish in two hours at a fishing derby in Ferguson.
Abell didn’t finish first, but the accomplishment thrilled her just the same.
Fast-forward to 2006. Abell was recently awarded a Curators’ Professorship, MU’s most prestigious honor. Abell, who teaches in MU’s departments of learning, teaching and curriculum and biological sciences, is also the director of the MU Science Education Center. She was nominated and recognized by her colleagues in the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum for her academic work, research and programs.
“It is a wonderful honor,” she said. “It’s definitely a pat on the back for the accomplishments that we’ve made in science education.”
Bina Vanmali, a doctoral student and learning resource specialist at the Student Success Center, said Abell deserved the honor.
“She embodies what a good professor is about and what a good professor should be about,” Vanmali said. “She’s energetic and works really hard to get students engaged.”
Abell knew at a young age that she wanted to be a teacher. When still in elementary school, Abell ran a summer “nursery school” where neighborhood children could participate in various activities.
In addition to her work at MU, Abell has taught in Iowa, New Mexico and Iceland. She was on the faculty at Purdue University for 12½ years until coming to MU in January 2001.
Abell is the primary investigator for the Science and Mathematics Academy for the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers, a program designed to meet the shortage of qualified math and science teachers. Recently, Abell said, the National Science Foundation funded $2 million to research how teachers develop knowledge for teaching through alternative teaching models.
Frank Schmidt, professor of biochemistry at MU, is working closely with Abell on a project to improve undergraduate science laboratories by encouraging participation and interest even for students who are not science majors. “She is like all good colleagues: open, involved, willing to listen and willing to tell you what she thinks,” Schmidt said. “She’s involved with not just people in science education, she’s involved with everyone.”