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Alexander, Helen

Alexander, PhD
Year Inducted: 
Helen Alexander
  • Pioneer in research on plant fungal diseases
  • 1997: Kemper Award for Teaching Excellence
  • 2000: J. Michael Young Academic Advising Award
  • 2006: TIAA-CREF Excellence in Teaching Award
  • 19-year database monitoring Mead’s milkweed is currently being used for federal scientists for research on “adaptive management” strategies

Dr. Helen Alexander, Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, is described by Dr. Craig Martin, colleague and chair of her department, as an individual who “epitomizes success as a person, and has achieved a high level of success while retaining a kindness and endearing attitude that serves as a model for all of us, not just women…[while she also] serves as a superb role model for women striving for success in any male-dominated field.”   She has won numerous awards for her teaching, such as the Kemper Award for Teaching Excellence (1997), Outstanding Woman Educator (1991), CTE Excellence in Teaching Award (1999), J. Michael Young Academic Advising Award (2000), and most recently, the TIAA-CREF Excellence in Teaching Award (2006).  These awards are clearly justified by the glowing remarks from students on teacher evaluations and her desire to constantly improve course offerings.  In addition to adding new topics to the curriculum, she has also expanded her scope by teaching courses and developing labs in the area of biostatistics. She is highly regarded by other department faculty as well.  “When I seek advice in dealing with particularly nasty issues, I always first consult Helen…her reputation for fairness and reasonable solutions to particularly difficult problems is near-legendary,” declares Martin.

Dr. Alexander’s efforts extend far beyond the biology department.  She has mentored School of Education students who seek additional science training, organized a two-day mini-symposium for the University of Kansas Field Stations on the conservation of endangered prairie plants, given presentations at Haskell University, and mentored undergraduates and a postdoctoral fellow from Haskell.  In addition to her community service work, such as leading a Girl Scout troop, Dr. Alexander has even consulted with the Kansas State Board of Education on the controversial topic of the state’s science curriculum.  Dr. Alexander is also well respected as a researcher.  She has published over 50 papers in her 19 years at KU, involved 35 undergraduates, and produced 12 Ph.D. and M.A. students.  Her 19-year database monitoring Mead’s milkweed is currently being used for federal scientists for research on “adaptive management” strategies.  When she began, her work on plant fungal diseases was pioneering and is now highly cited.

Dr. Alexander is characterized as “common sense and moderation, with good doses of optimism and warmth and humor” by Janis Antonovics, Lewis and Clark Professor.  These qualities no doubt contribute to Dr. Alexander’s most important influence - her mentorship of students.  Particularly noteworthy is the role she has served as a mentor to every untenured female faculty member in her department, borrowing from her own experiences of juggling a career and two children.  Bernadette Roche, Professor at Loyola College in Maryland, states “I cannot think of anyone who has influenced my career path more than Helen, and I have never had such an excellent role model as I found in Helen during my graduate student years and beyond.”  Dr. Anita Davelos Baines, Professor at The University of Texas-Pan Am, echoes Roche’s thoughts and confesses, “Now that I have graduated students of my own, I often find myself thinking ‘How would Helen handle this?’”

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