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  • portrait of Professor Lee Penn

    Lee Penn receives 2020 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service

Professor Lee Penn has received the 2020 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service, honored for their outstanding service to the University, scientific community, and profession. 

Penn has a lengthy record of service at many levels, but what stands out is their exceptional, passionate leadership and service to diversity, equity, and access. They served as the founding chair of the Department of Chemistry's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which was formed in 2013. Under their leadership, this committee has become transformative to every aspect of the department, from undergraduate course design to overall department climate and hiring. 

In 2017, Penn became director of Undergraduate Studies (DUGS), where they have consistently provided outstanding service to chemistry majors and to the thousands of students from across the University that take chemistry classes every semester. They have led efforts to improve service to the students in the College of Science & Engineering and other colleges such as College of Liberal Arts, College of Education and Human Development, and College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences. 

Working directly with advisers and Professor Michelle Driessen, director of General Chemistry, Penn led an effort to improve the success and learning outcomes for students identified as at risk of drop-failure-withdrawal (DFW). There has already been a reduction in DFW rates and, in some cases, elimination of gender gaps. 

Penn has also dedicated substantial effort to curriculum development and working with the Disabilities Resource Center (DRC) to improve access. This work has included actively educating faculty on topics such as the new gender equity and access policy and DRC accommodation procedures and best practices.

Professor Penn leads a world-class, interdisciplinary research program and is a national leader in the fields of nanoscience, crystal growth, materials chemistry, and environmental chemistry. They share that knowledge and expertise with people of all ages, ranging from preschool to adulthood. For example, they are a popular presenter in the Energy and U program for students in 3rd-6th grades. They work with high school teachers to develop new methods for classroom and laboratory instruction, and on the development of new hands-on experiments for effective science, technology, engineering, and math learning in classrooms.

In addition, Penn has become an effective instructor and facilitator for workshops addressing topics from intersectionality, bullying, implicit bias, micro-aggressions, serving as effective allies, LGBTQ+ identities, gender equity, and more. They share this knowledge and expertise, giving lectures and leading workshops nationally.

At the University of Minnesota, Penn has served on numerous committees and as an adviser to numerous student and professional groups. They have also been a leader on the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Division of Geochemistry, and on other ACS committees, particularly those working on diversity, equity, access, disabilities, and minority affairs.

"Lee is an energetic and passionate contributor to every aspect of our mission, and continues to tirelessly, generously, and passionately work to improve diversity within STEM fields," said Department Head David Blank. "They are a true model of service to our institution, discipline, and society."

Other current Department of Chemistry faculty members who have received the George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service include Edgar Arriaga, David Blank, Christopher Cramer, Wayne Gladfelter, and Donald Truhlar.