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Prestigious Dreyfus Award recognizes professor’s teaching excellence

Dec 12, 2023
3 min Read
Eugene Curtin
Eric Villa explaining his research in lab setting.

The Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, among the most prestigious available to young faculty teaching the chemical sciences, has come to Creighton for a second time. 

Eric Villa, PhD, professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, is one of eight 2023 recipients drawn from eight universities across the United States. He follows in the footsteps of Kayode Oshin, PhD, chair of Creighton’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who won the award in 2020. In the past five years, the department has also had a Cottrell Scholar Awardee (Joel Destino, PhD) and two National Science Foundation CAREER awardees (Destino and Lynne Dieckman, PhD). 

Two Dreyfus awards in three years is a remarkable achievement, says Bridget Keegan, PhD, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  

“Because of Dr. Villa and his colleagues, our chemistry department stands out among fellow primarily undergraduate institutions with the number of our national recognitions,” she says.   

“Dr. Villa richly deserves this prestigious award. He has an impressive research record which has fully integrated undergraduate collaborators. What’s more, he is a campus leader in STEM pedagogy, having worked with Professor Peter Stone to implement the Quantitative Assessment for New Students assessment for incoming students to ensure that they are able to succeed as they transition to college.”   

The Dreyfus Award acknowledges the totality of a teaching program, Villa says. While it recognizes a specific research project — in Villa’s case “Bridging Solution and Solid-State Chemistries: Exploring Polyoxometalate Ion Reactivity and Targeted Syntheses of Lanthanide Materials” — it honors a complete approach to instruction that includes undergraduate involvement in research.   

I really see it as an acknowledgement both of scholarly production and our work incorporating undergraduates into the lab.
— Eric Villa, PhD

I really see it as an acknowledgement both of scholarly production and our work incorporating undergraduates into the lab,” Villa says. “I have published about 21 articles since coming to Creighton, most of those in cooperation with undergraduate students.”  

In conformance with Creighton’s emphasis on providing research opportunities to undergraduates, Villa has accompanied students to local, regional and national meetings where they deliver presentations. Part of the $75,000 unrestricted research funds will facilitate future trips, he said.  

“Their presentations have been well received,” he says. “We are fortunate to have amazing students at Creighton who are able to present the science that happens here.” 

The goal, he says, is to produce independent scholars who not only can function as chemists but who develop a deep understanding of the scientific method and take that understanding into their wider lives. For the past eight years, that process has begun with a summer chemistry camp, where Villa and his undergraduates lead middle schoolers through the magic of inorganic chemistry.   

“In that way, our students give back to these young students who have an interest in STEM.”  

Villa says he is fortunate to have a plentiful supply of committed undergraduates.   

“The beauty is that there is no shortage of wonderful Creighton students to be a part of our labs,” he says. “It is amazing to see where they go from here. Some go into industry, some explore PhD programs in chemistry or biochemistry, some go on to medical, or dental, or pharmacy. Many of them reflect that they really enjoyed their time in the lab because it enabled them to appreciate how science works.”