Professor Sharon Hall earns teaching award in natural sciences

As an Asian American interested in conservation and environmental science, still largely white-dominated disciplines in the U.S., Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences Professor Sharon Hall always felt like a bit of an outsider.

Over the years, Hall has drawn on her experience and perspective to use her platform as a researcher and instructor to help change who is represented in biology, more specifically ecology and conservation biology, and inspire the next generation of conservationists.

Her commitment to teaching and inclusion has been recognized with the 2021 Zebulon Pearce Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Natural Sciences from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

“I am grateful to receive this award and humbled especially after such a challenging year for undergraduates and our community,” she said. “I’m excited to continue my work with students to fuel their passion for nature and help them build skills for their future careers.”

“Sharon is inspirational,” said Jennifer Fewell, associate director of faculty in the School of Life Sciences. “Her dedication to her students and to their success shines through in all of her interactions, from the classroom, to her mentoring, to her advocacy for students and for inclusivity at ASU. SOLS is becoming a stronger and more academically diverse community because of her energy and actions.” 

Hall teaches ecology and careers in environmental science, and she has helped to develop the online conservation biology and ecology major. She creates student-centered classrooms and tries to connect the material to real life as much as possible. Students report that she has a unique balance between rigor and empathy, providing them with the support needed to reach her high expectations. Her students notice how much she cares about them as people and how inspirational her own journey has been, with some even calling her an “icon in conservation biology.” She started Nature@ASU, a student-led organization to create community and broaden participation in environmental biology.

“I have been incredibly impressed by Professor Hall’s energy and innovation to create opportunities for student success in the School of Life Sciences,” said Kenro Kusumi, current director of the School of Life Sciences and newly appointed dean of natural sciences for The College. “She is a superb instructor and important leader in our undergraduate programs, and we are all proud to see her receive this recognition.”

In addition to teaching and mentoring, Hall has been serving a special adviser for diversity and inclusion to the director of the School of Life Sciences, and chair of the school’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. She has mobilized the unit to consider how to become more inclusive by coordinating myriad efforts with students, staff and faculty that focus on everything from inclusive teaching and curriculum reform to postdoc-to-faculty hires for candidates that will help the unit faculty become more representative of students. The work of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee was just recently showcased in a unitwide retreat that Hall and her team organized. 

“Sharon’s passion and commitment to diversity and inclusion is contagious,” said Sara Brownell, associate professor in the School of Life Sciences and director of the Research for Inclusive STEM Education Center. “Her energy, her thoughtful approaches to problems, her support of others, her organizational skills and her willingness to listen and to act on what she hears make her such an impactful leader. Her work in SOLS focused on inclusion has fundamentally altered the instruction of thousands of students and makes her so deserving of this teaching award.” 

“I’m committed to helping ASU live up to its inclusive charter, for undergrads, grad students, staff and faculty,” Hall said. “We’ll be better able to develop solutions to the planet’s most pressing challenges if we tap into the best ideas from across our diverse communities. To be recognized for efforts is surreal and makes me proud to be part of this institution.”

Dominique Perkins