Campus: San Diego State University -- May 26, 2004

SDSU Professor Receives Top National Science Foundation Award for Teaching and Research

Earth/Climate Scientist Walter Oechel to Receive $300,000 Over Next Four Years

SAN DIEGO, Wednesday, May 26, 2004 – The National Science Foundation has selected San Diego State University biology professor Walter C. Oechel as one of eight scientists in the nation to receive the 2004 Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars.

The award is the NSF’s highest honor for excellence in both teaching and research. The awardees will be recognized at a ceremony on June 2 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Each will receive $300,000 over the next four years to further their teaching and research efforts with all levels of students and with the public at large.

Oechel, world-renown among researchers for his studies of climate change, already shares science with a broad range of people through educational outreach programs. His research efforts address virtually every aspect of climate dynamics and ecosystems science. His experiments have taken place in California, Alaska, the Midwest, the Great Plains, Russia and Mexico and help determine the impact of global warming. Oechel’s audiences range from grade school students and teachers whose classrooms are connected to his research sites in real-time via the Internet; to SDSU undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students who participate in his research; to lawmakers who rely on his findings and expert testimony to determine CO2 regulations and other laws designed to protect the environment.

“I am deeply committed to increasing the level of math and science education in the U.S., and I am greatly concerned that students fair so poorly against those from other developed countries,” Oechel said. “We need a scientifically and technically literate population if we want to solve the complex environmental problems that face the world today.”

Oechel will use his award to foster the development of a Web-based curriculum that will provide accessible lessons to diverse audiences on how different regions are affected by climate change. The new curriculum will highlight the importance of climate change, the real-world application of scientific data and concepts, and how climatic events in one region (e.g., El Niño events) affect climate change in other regions (e.g., arctic oscillations).

“It is critically important to understand the impact of human consumption of natural resources, the real effects of excessive amounts of CO2 and what we can do to ensure the long term health of the world we live in,” said Oechel, who is also the director of the SDSU Global Change Research Group that brings together his environmental research and outreach interests. “My hope is to find answers and share knowledge with anybody who will listen, regardless of age, expertise or political position.”

In addition to the NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar award, Oechel has received many other honors throughout his career. In 2003, he was named to the Institute for Scientific Information's “Highly Cited Researchers” list. This list, which comprises less than 0.5 percent of all publishing researchers, is based on the important scientific developments made by individuals in the last two decades and reflects the outstanding number of references Oechel’s papers have garnered over the years. Additionally, he serves on National Academy of Sciences boards and committees (including the Polar Research Board and the Ecosystems Panel), and he has testified about environmental issues to the U.S. Senate, the United Nations (FAO) and foreign governments. He has also twice reviewed the Dutch National Program on Climate Change.

The other Distinguished Teaching Scholar awardees include: Alice M. Agogino, University of California-Berkeley; Susan E. Powers, Clarkson University; Thomas F. Banchoff, Brown University; Julio J. Ramirez, Davidson College; Kenneth G. Tobin, City University of New York; David F. Ollis, North Carolina State University; and Dean A. Zollman, Kansas State University.

For more information about the NSF Director’s Distinguished Teaching Scholar awards please visit

Contact: Aaron Hoskins, (619) 594-1119,

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