Professor D'Avanzo, who was trained as a marine ecologist, has focused for nearly two decades on ecology education reform.
The award is given for excellence in ecological education through teaching, outreach, and mentoring. It was presented at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), held in Portland, Oregon. D'Avanzo has been active in the ESA since 1995.
"I didn't even know I was nominated, so it came as a complete surprise to me," she said.
D'Avanzo's research—much of it based on what she has learned while teaching at Hampshire College—has been supported by numerous grants from the National Science Foundation.
Her work centers on the teaching of ecology and biology on a national scale. With grant support she founded Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology (TIEE), a peer-reviewed publication of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). More recently, she has shifted her focus to reform of introductory biology courses.
"Tens of thousands of students take introductory biology each semester. Research shows that a large number of them come into the class interested in biology, and about half leave no longer interested. I think this is largely due to the enormous amount of information students are forced to memorize for tests," she said.
D'Avanzo collaborates with education researchers nationally. Her individual work within these collaborations deals predominantly with faculty development, and finding ways to help professors change their teaching methods to better reach their students.
"We found that faculty are shocked by what students don't understand," she said. "I'm interested in what it takes for a faculty member to sit up and say 'I've got to do something differently.'"
The award is named for Eugene Odum, a famed scientist whose work was instrumental in focusing attention on ecology and the concept of an ecosystem.
"He wrote the first ecology textbook and was very interested in working with students, so it's really an honor to win an award associated with him," said