This year’s top faculty prize, the 2023 Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Teaching, was recently awarded to Matt Collier, professor of biology and chair of the department. Celebrating the University’s dedication to superior, quality teaching, the award was announced by Wittenberg Alumni Association Board President Laurice Moore, class of 1995, during the institution’s annual Honors Convocation this spring.
“This year’s award recipient continuously demonstrates his service and commitment to Wittenberg,” Moore said. “He has always advocated for students and shows genuine care. The type of care shown by this year’s recipient and so many of the faculty here is what makes Wittenberg such an amazing place. Like past recipients, he demonstrates that excellence in teaching spans all aspects of Wittenberg’s curriculum.”
In her remarks, Moore also noted that Collier has grown students’ interest in the field of biology, as well as the value they place on a Wittenberg liberal arts education. Speaking to him, she stated: “You have continued a great tradition of connecting with students, bringing them to Wittenberg, and giving it everything you have to make their lives and careers more fulfilling. In turn, they are lifelong contributors to our communities and stewards of Wittenberg University and we thank you for your many gifts and for sharing them with us.”
A botanist and ecotoxicologist, Collier is a 1994 alumnus of Wittenberg, where he earned his B.A. in biology followed by his M.S. in botany from Miami University in Oxford, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Cincinnati. His current research focuses on the relationship between the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, sensu lato; Asteraceae) and anthropogenic metal contamination. Specifically, he is interested in determining the metal tolerance mechanism(s) used by dandelion clones growing in metal polluted environments, how anthropogenic environmental contamination may act to reduce or increase dandelion population genetic variation, and whether or not pollution tolerant dandelions may be useful in future studies concerning the phytoremediation of metal contaminated soils. Collier's long-term research plans also include investigating the impacts of invasive plant species (e.g., garlic mustard, multiflora rose, and amur honeysuckle) on midwestern deciduous forests.
“Receiving this award is the biggest honor of my professional life and is something that I will always cherish,” said Collier, who says he is an avid moviegoer and quite possibly the biggest Cleveland Browns/Guardians/Cavaliers fan on the planet. “Knowing that I’ve had a positive impact on student experiences at Wittenberg (both past and present) is a great feeling. I want to thank the Wittenberg Alumni Association and everyone that considered me for this award!”
In his nominations, students and staff also shared what makes Collier so special.
“Dr. Collier embodies everything that is Wittenberg,” said campus leader Morgan White, Wittenberg class of 2023. “He eats, sleeps, and breathes Wittenberg and puts this school at his forefront. Dr. Collier’s light shines bright in everything he does and tends to kindle the light of everyone around him as well. He is kind, he is generous, he is empathetic, he is an all-around phenomenal professor and human being. I look up to him and hope to make him proud in my present and future studies and career.”
“Matt goes above and beyond the expectations of the typical faculty position so often that it has become the expectation and as such, it goes unnoticed and unremarked,” added Beth Hallauer, assistant director of the Wittenberg Honors Program. “When my daughter was first admitted to Wittenberg and indicated an interest in biology as a major, Matt sent her an e-mail telling her about the program at Witt. The letter was informative, engaging, witty, and quirky. It was that letter – sent before she was even a deposited student at Witt – that led her to ask him to be her academic advisor when she declared her major. Someone who has that effect on a prospective student deserves recognition of his impact on students before, during, and after their time at Wittenberg.”
The Pre-Health Club Advisor on campus, Collier regularly teaches Concepts of Biology I and II, Genetics, the Morphology and Taxonomy of Vascular Plants, the Woody Plants of Ohio (summer), and Medical Terminology.
“The thing I like best about teaching is the day-to-day interaction with our students. I enjoy our classroom discussions and laboratory discoveries,” said Collier, whose other favorite activities include playing basketball (Wittenberg Noon Hoops), streaming Marvel/Star Wars TV shows, drinking coffee, and advocating for eSports.
“I like to be there to help when things don’t go well and to celebrate success. I like hearing about all the things our students do outside the classroom, and I think it is awesome when they question what goes on inside the classroom,” Collier added. “The students are the best thing about Wittenberg, and watching them evolve over the course of their four years on campus is an amazing experience.”
Over the course of his career, Collier has consistently served the community through the school system, working with high school and middle school students on their science fair projects, as a science fair judge, and a regular career day speaker.
He is also very supportive of spouse Kristen Collier, Wittenberg class of 1992, in her work as the associate director of the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement.
“I am a strong advocate for engaging students in the community and encourage pre-health professional students to make connections with healthcare organizations,” he said. “What they learn from these experiences allows them to be better prepared for graduate school and their future professions. Springfield and our local partners are welcoming to our students and are invested in developing students who care about helping their communities thrive.”
Collier first started teaching at Wittenberg in 1997 and has never looked back.
“Teaching at Wittenberg was an easy choice,” he said. “As an alum, I had an unforgettable and immensely enjoyable experience as an undergrad. I was invited to teach at Wittenberg for a one-year visiting instructor position after receiving my master’s degree in 1997. I enjoyed teaching so much that I went back to graduate school for my doctorate and was lucky enough to be offered a second visiting professor position when I finished (many thanks to Drs. Ron deLanglade and Tim Lewis for giving me this chance). Not many people are lucky enough to teach at their alma mater. When I come to work, every day is like Homecoming…and it is awesome! I would like to thank all my colleagues, students, and campus friends for their support over the course of my career.”
Established in 1960, the Distinguished Teaching Award is presented to a faculty member who has completed five years of service at Wittenberg and is a full-time teacher at the time of selection. Selection is based on current performance, and all alumni, students, faculty and staff are allowed to nominate candidates. This award celebrates what Wittenberg delivers better than anyone: a dedication to superior quality teaching, and it is the highest honor a Wittenberg professor can receive.