31 January 2023

Kimberly Ann Coble Awarded 2023 J D Jackson Excellence in Graduate Physics Education Award

Tom Rice

Tom Rice American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Kim Coble
Kimberly Ann Coble, winner of the 2023 J D Jackson Excellence in Graduate Physics Education Award.

All of us at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are pleased to celebrate that Kimberly Ann Coble recently received the 2023 J D Jackson Excellence in Graduate Physics Education Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). Kim received the award at the January 2023 AAPT meeting in Portland, Oregon. Kim has been a long-time advocate and expert in the field of improving astronomy education and mentorship, especially but not only at the graduate level. Kim’s service and leadership in the AAS community include serving on both the AAS 2016 Task Force on Education, the 2018 AAS Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in Astronomy Graduate Education, and her former leadership of the AAS Education Committee as its chair. Please join us in wishing congratulations to Kim!

The following text is adapted from an 8 August 2022 press release of the American Association of Physics Teachers:

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) has announced that the John David Jackson Excellence in Graduate Physics Education Award for 2023 will be awarded to Kimberly Ann Coble, Professor of Physics at San Francisco State University.

This prestigious award will be presented to Coble during the 2023 AAPT Winter Meeting. Coble was selected to receive the Jackson Award in recognition of her work as a teacher of graduate Physics and Astronomy. She is a pioneer in graduate physics & astronomy education.

Coble earned her BA in Physics, Astronomy, and Astrophysics at The University of Pennsylvania. Both her MS and PhD in Astronomy & Astrophysics were earned at The University of Chicago. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Chicago and Adler Planetarium.

At San Francisco State University (SFSU) she created a new course called PHYS 885: Inclusive Pedagogy for the Physical Sciences. Nearly all master’s students who are Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) in Physics & Astronomy at SFSU take this class to learn how to become more effective teachers for the ever more diverse students enrolling in the physical sciences. Despite a third of undergraduate students belonging to groups underrepresented in the physical sciences, fewer than 5% of graduate degrees are eventually awarded to these students. The problem is complex, but part of the solution is better training of the GTAs who teach undergraduate students in lower-division introductory laboratory courses — these are often the first instructors that undergraduates see in smaller class settings. Yet, GTAs typically have the least training in teaching. Coble’s course introduces GTAs to evidence-based, student-centered, equitable, and inclusive teaching strategies, the social science literature on cultural capital, asset framing and growth mindsets, stereotype threat, and micro vs. macro aggressions vs. affirmations. The course is practical, helping GTAs learn how to create lesson plans, student learning outcomes, differentiated assessments, and grading rubrics. GTAs also reflect on their teaching practice and collaborate with peers to identify successes and challenges in their teaching.

Throughout her career, she has created opportunities for graduate students and beyond to become involved in research in meaningful ways and to engage in the academic work, such as presenting at conferences and writing manuscripts for publication, and supporting them in doing so well. When these students attend conferences, Coble goes out of her way to help students network, identify learning opportunities, and model academic engagement so that they get the most out of their experience.

She led the development of “Big Ideas in Cosmology,” a flexible, interactive set of online modules on cosmology that instructors use at many levels, from graduate and upper-division undergraduate majors to lower-division courses for non-majors. The modules use active learning design elements, particularly those that leverage personal computing tools so that students engage with real data through a scaffolded approach that facilitates knowledge construction. The modules are also explicit in representing the diversity of both real and imagined people studying cosmology, through profiles of a variety of scientists and the use of varied and diverse student names in activities, respectively.

Coble’s work in teaching, mentoring of, and curriculum development for graduate students in astronomy and physics is outstanding. She is training a generation of new scholars who are helping to change the culture of physics and astronomy pedagogy to be more inclusive and equitable. In recognition of her sustained leadership in these endeavors, Coble was elected as a Legacy Fellow in the inaugural class of the American Astronomical Society Fellows Program in 2020.

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