SPIE Fellow Wei R. Chen is the recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College. Chen is professor of engineering and physics and assistant dean of the College of Mathematics and Science at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO -- Edmond, OK). One of five awards in different categories, the medal is the highest award for education in the state.
Chen founded Oklahoma's first and only Biomedical Engineering Program for undergraduates at UCO and has gained international recognition for his research using medical laser applications to treat cancer. Chen uses his laboratory research as an extension of his teaching, involving students from high school to the post-doctoral level in life-saving cancer research. He chairs the annual Biophotonics and Immune Responses conference at the SPIE Biomedical Optics symposium, and serves on the Society's Fellows Committee.
UCO Provost William Radke describes Chen as "a teacher at heart." Chen has developed transformative learning strategies that are rooted in his Chinese heritage, including teaching according to a student's ability, using an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research, and using inquiry-based learning to help students make discoveries through real-world research and experience.
One former student praised Chen as a role model who teaches that "contributing to society and the human race is a higher order of our education and career." In Chen's classroom and lab, students learn about the impact of their learning and research through the experiences of cancer patients. "I challenge my students to save or change at least one person's life for the better in their career," Chen says.
Chen has received numerous awards for teaching, including the U.S. Professor of the Year Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Chen also recently received a 2011-2012 US Fulbright Lecturing/Research Award, and plans to spend a sabbatical year doing research in Taiwan.