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Teaching's in her DNA

Ellen Brisch is rarely alone in her office. The biology associate professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead constantly has students coming by looking for advice on classes, careers or life in general.

Ellen Brisch

Ellen Brisch is rarely alone in her office. The biology associate professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead constantly has students coming by looking for advice on classes, careers or life in general.

"Her first and her strongest commitment in her job is to her students and their success," said her colleague, Michelle Malott. "It goes beyond just teaching them biology."

Today, Brisch's dedication will be recognized in Washington, D.C., when she receives the Minnesota Professor of the Year award that includes public and private colleges.

The honor is sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and is administered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. There was no award in North Dakota this year.

Brisch, 45, is noted for her innovative teaching methods such as having students act out plays to learn a challenging concept.


She also engages students by wearing T-shirts that correspond with the daily lesson.

"She has more biology T-shirts than anyone I have ever met in my life," said Kristine Knoll, a third-year biology major who has Brisch as her research adviser.

Brisch, who has taught at MSUM since 1999, said she started the T-shirt of the day when she began teaching large classes and was nervous by all the rustling around at the beginning of class.

"I thought, 'What can I do to transform the rustling around to the lecture?' " Brisch said.

People liked it, so it stuck. Now she might wear a DNA shirt to one class, but change clothes to fit the next lesson.

Knoll said students appreciate Brisch's sense of humor.

"Instead of making everything so formal and so serious, she helps you realize that learning can be fun," said Knoll, who received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship earlier this year.

Malott, associate professor of biosciences, said students respond well to Brisch's teaching methods and they remember what they learned.


"She does it while maintaining the rigor and the quality of the education," Malott said.

Last year, Brisch was among 17 college professors selected as "outstanding advisers" by the National Academic Advising Association.

Brisch said she loves advising biology majors and seeing them work toward their goals.

"Success isn't always overnight," she said. "It's so gratifying to see people go on and do better than they thought they'd do."

She also enjoys teaching students who take her class to satisfy a science requirement.

"People think they're going to hate it," Brisch said. "I tell them to give me a chance and give the topic a chance."

Students realize that learning science isn't so painful and sometimes they even become biology majors, Brisch said.

Brisch also is active on campus, recently serving as chairwoman of a task force that revamped MSUM's core curriculum.


"Her influence goes beyond just the students in the biosciences," Malott said.

MSUM's Brisch is 7th to win teaching award

MSUM has dominated the Minnesota Professor of the Year award since it was established. No other campus has won the award more than twice.

Ellen Brisch in biology is the seventh from MSUM honored in the past 20 years. The others were:

- Mark Wallert, biosciences, 2005

- Jim Bartruff, theater, 2001

- Andrew Conteh, political science, 1999

- David Mason, English, 1994

- Evelyn Lynch, elementary and early childhood education, 1992

- Delmar Hansen, theater, 1987.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

Teaching's in her DNA Amy Dalrymple 20071115

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