UNL's Lee, Thomas receive Friend of Science Awards from NATS

Dr. Kevin Lee (at right)
Dr. Kevin Lee (at right)

The Nebraska Academy of Sciences Academy annually recognizes one or two people with high achievements in attaining the historical and current objectives of NATS. The Friend of Science Award is the highest recognition bestowed by the Academy. In spring 2019, the Friend of Science Awards were presented to UNL’s Kevin Lee and Julie Thomas.

Kevin Lee is a Research Associate Professor at UNL. His appointment is shared by an academic department where his duties focus on instruction and the CSMCE, where he works on curriculum development, outreach, teacher training, and technology support.

He oversees the Astronomy Education at UNL through http://astro.unl.edu, which houses computer simulations, a library of dynamic peer instruction questions, a suite of interactive ranking and sorting tasks, and a growing library of astronomy demonstration videos available on YouTube. The simulations have been used globally by astronomy faculty for more than 10 years. This work was largely responsible for Lee winning the AAPT’s Halliday and Resnick Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Teaching in 2012.

Lee has organized an annual workshop in astronomy education each fall for over 15 years. This workshop has been held jointly with the fall meeting of the Nebraska Chapter of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He recently has returned to UNL after a three-year stint as a rotating program officer in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education.

Julie Thomas currently serves as the Interim Dean for Research in the College of Education and Human Sciences at UNL and as CSMCE faculty. Beginning with her elementary teaching experiences in rural and urban Nebraska classrooms (14 years), Thomas recognized children’s science enthusiasm and decided to pursue a doctoral degree in science education. Now, as a university professor (24 years), Thomas enjoys research and teaching related to elementary science education. She has led numerous funded projects and published research focused on children’s science learning and teacher professional development. Proud accomplishments include collaborative efforts – such as No Duck Left Behind, a partnership with waterfowl biologists to promote wetland education efforts, and Engineering is Everywhere (E2), a partnership with a materials engineer to develop a time-efficient model for STEM career education.

Throughout her teaching career, Thomas has been actively involved in national and international professional associations such as the School Science and Mathematics Association (SSMA-Past Executive Director), National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA-Awards and Nominations Committees), the Council for Elementary Children International (CESI-Past President). In Nebraska, Thomas has been a long-time member of the Nebraska Association of Science Teachers (NATS) having served on the board from 1991-92 and continuing as a NATS conference presenter Thomas continues her science education leadership as the NJAS Director of the Southeast Regional Science Fair.

-- Todd Young, NAS President Wayne State College