Brent Opell, professor of biological sciences in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, has received the university's 2015 William E. Wine Award.

The William E. Wine Achievement Award was established in 1957 by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association in memory of William E. Wine, Class of 1904, who was a former rector of the Board of Visitors and alumni association president, to recognize teaching excellence. Following a college-level selection process of candidates nominated by students, faculty, and alumni, each college may put forth one nominee. Three faculty members are selected annually to receive this award by a committee representing all eight colleges at the university. Each Wine Award winner receives $2,000 and automatic induction into the Academy of Teaching Excellence.

Since joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 1978, Opell has taught more than 8,000 students, most of them in freshman- and sophomore-level courses. His teaching contributions have been recognized by two Department of Biological Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Awards and three College of Science Certificates of Teaching Excellence.

“Over the years, Dr. Opell has continually endeavored to improve his teaching, to create a learning environment based on mutual respect, and to convey an enthusiasm for his subject material,” Brenda Winkel, professor and head of the Department of Biological Sciences, wrote in her letter of nomination. “He has clearly been successful in accomplishing these goals based on the comments the department received from past students.”

Opell engages students in course material by integrating his research and field experiences into class presentations. His use of real-world examples from his personal travels engages students.

“Dr. Opell leaves a lasting impression on the students with whom he works, both inside and outside of the classroom,” added Winkel. “Our graduating seniors often name him as a professor whom they remember as an outstanding teacher, despite the fact it may have been two or more years since they were in his classroom."

Outside the classroom, Opell mentors undergraduate students by involving them in his National Science Foundation-sponsored studies of spider evolutionary biology. These include studies of adhesion in the capture threads of spider orb-webs, with students as co-authors on many of the published papers.

In addition to his teaching activities, Opell has served as his department’s academic advisor since 1978, was the freshman advisor from 2002 to 2013, and serves as a pre-veterinary advisor.

Opell received a bachelor’s degree from Butler University, a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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