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Marquette University Alumni Association

College of Education Award Recipients

Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award

James WanderseeDR. JAMES H. WANDERSEE, GRAD '78

Baton Rouge, La.

For Dr. James Wandersee, if it’s related to plant life, he’s fascinated by it. From fifth grade on, he aspired to be a science teacher. Today, he is in his fourth decade of educating students about — and inspiring them to love — biology, especially botany.
A biology education professor at Louisiana State University, Jim has concentrated his research and development program on improving science learning in formal and informal settings. To that end, he won a 2004 state commendation from Louisiana’s governor and legislature for his work on improving public science education in the state.

In line with his interest in improving public understanding of plants in the world’s cities, Jim is co-authoring the 2011 book Seeing Plants: A Theory of Plant Blindness, which uses principles of human vision and original findings to explain why most global urban populations tend to pay little attention to plants or recognize their important roles in human affairs.

He earned his doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the College of Education and still cherishes his time at Marquette.

“My educational experiences at Marquette emphasized the linkages between self-discipline, scholarship, service, faith and the quest for excellence,” says Jim, who has taught at seven colleges and universities and strives to uphold those values every day. He has lectured on botany education research in 15 countries on five continents, has published extensively and has received many awards.

“To choose to be a teacher is to choose a life of service to humankind. It’s not a path to power, fame and riches,” he says. “But the beautiful paradox of education is that you can give what you know to others — and yet retain and strengthen your own knowledge during that giving.”

Fun fact: Originally from New Ulm, Minn., Jim says his parents, Howard and Viola, instilled in him a deep respect for education and a resilient faith. They made significant sacrifices so he could pursue his educational goals and reminded him that “to whom much is given much shall be required.”