Biology’s Reid Compton Receives 2018 Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award

On September 12, 2018, University of Maryland Biology Principal Lecturer Reid Compton was awarded the 2018 Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award during the university’s annual Faculty and Staff Convocation ceremony.

The Kirwan Undergraduate Education award, which provides a $5,000 stipend, recognizes a faculty member who has made exceptional contributions to the quality of undergraduate education at the university. 

The award recognizes Compton’s 21 years of service to the university, including his participation in numerous committees related to the undergraduate experience and his leadership of the College Park Scholars Life Sciences Program.

College Park Scholars is a community of 12 interdisciplinary programs designed to intellectually challenge and engage academically talented first- and second-year students. Scholars from the same program live together in a residence hall and have the opportunity to participate in internships, research, community service, study abroad programs and travel.

In addition, the award culminates Compton’s time as director of the College Park Scholars Life Sciences Program. After serving almost 10 years and a thousand students, Compton retired from the directorship this past summer to focus on his role as associate chair and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Biology.

“Receiving the Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award validates my choice to make my professional contribution through teaching and mentoring undergraduates,” Compton said. “I am humbled by the depth of support of colleagues and current and former students whose comments and testimonials helped me earn this award.”

Compton joined UMD in 1997 as a lecturer in biology. Five years later, William Higgins—now an associate professor emeritus of biology—asked Compton to accompany life sciences scholars on a summer trip to Australia.

“I looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I went,” Compton said. “It turned out there was an unwritten rule that after going on this trip, I had to teach a scholars course the next year—nobody told me that part! But I kept going on trips and teaching courses and just sort of integrated myself into the program.”

In 2009, when the founding director of the College Park Scholars Life Sciences Program retired, Compton applied for the job. 

“As the director of undergraduate programs in the Department of Biology, I knew that working with faculty can be challenging,” Compton quipped. “So, the opportunity to work more with students was extremely attractive to me!”

After becoming director, Compton established a rapport with the life sciences scholars by getting to know them outside of the academic life.

“We spent a lot of time building community,” Compton said. “We used Scholars as a homeroom to ask students what was going on in their lives. We also got to know students during our camping trips and field trips. I think it worked pretty well. I’m very proud of the number of students who stay in touch after graduation to tell me about their successes in their lives and careers.”

Compton also takes pride in his contributions to the College Park Scholars life science program’s colloquium, which is a course that scholars take in the fall and spring semesters. During his directorship, Compton emphasized professional development and real-world applications of biology and chemistry.

“I don’t expect everyone to become a scientist, so I focus on helping students understand what science is and how to put science into context,” Compton said. “I try to teach them the scientific method and how to be critical thinkers. In the future, they can use those skills to basically understand anything that’s going on in the world.”

More than 270 people attended Compton’s April 2018 retirement party, including dozens of College Park Scholars Life Sciences alumni. Additional alumni sent heartfelt messages thanking Compton for guiding them and caring about them while they were students.

“Reid has directly touched the lives of many university students in ways large and small,” said Robert Infantino, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. “That’s a lot of letters of recommendation, but more importantly, a sizable cohort of great ambassadors for the university, equipped to embrace the next challenges in their lives, their education and their careers.”

Compton received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Virginia and his B.S. in biology from the College of William and Mary.

Written by Irene Ying