AUSTIN, Texas — Jay Banner, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, has been awarded the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, one of the highest honors for teaching in the country.
Awarded by Baylor University, the Cherry Award program is designed to honor great college or university teachers, stimulate discussion about the value of teaching, and encourage departments and institutions to recognize their own great teachers. Along with a record of distinguished scholarship, people nominated for the Cherry Award have proved themselves as extraordinary teachers with positive, inspiring and long-lasting effects on students. The award comes with the single largest monetary prize of $250,000 for exceptional teaching.
“Jay has a special knack for taking geosciences and making it relatable and accessible,” said Claudia Mora, the dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences. “Generations of students at UT have benefited from Jay’s great teaching and passion for geosciences. He not only shows that geosciences matters when it comes to big issues, but why it matters on a community scale.”
Banner is the F.M. Bullard Professor in the Jackson School’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and director of UT’s Environmental Science Institute. His teaching interests are in sustainability, environmental science, geochemistry and environmental justice. His K-12 and community engagement initiatives include the public lecture series “Hot Science – Cool Talks,” a scientist in residence program that partners STEM graduate-student researchers with K-12 teachers, and a new project called CRESSLE that partners researchers and people in underserved communities to work together to address climate resilience challenges.
“Jay Banner is an academic innovator whose teaching and educational programs have impacted thousands of students,” said Cherry Award committee chair Kevin D. Dougherty, a professor of sociology and department graduate program director at Baylor University. “His teaching-related accomplishments include an abundance of awards, grants and publications with students. He is the type of legendary teacher for whom the Cherry Award was created.”
In addition to the monetary award, Banner will receive an additional $25,000 for the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences to further Baylor University’s commitment to great teaching. Banner is expected to teach in residence at Baylor during the 2025 spring semester. Banner visited Baylor in October to present his Cherry Award finalist lecture, “21st Century Texas: Climate, Water, Science, and Society.”
“When I think of great teachers I’ve known, they share their excitement of discovery about how the world works,” he said. “If a teacher can take a complex concept, whether it’s in science, engineering or the humanities, and help students understand it and be excited about having learned it, that’s what it’s all about.”
A faculty member at UT since 1990, Banner earned a B.A. in geology at the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in earth sciences from State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is a member of UT’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers, a recipient of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship Award and the UT System Regents Outstanding Teaching Award, and he is a fellow of the Geological Society of America.
The Cherry Award was created by Robert Foster Cherry, who earned an A.B. from Baylor in 1929. He enrolled in Baylor Law School in 1932 and passed the Texas State Bar Examination the following year. With a deep appreciation for how his life had been changed by significant teachers, he made an exceptional estate bequest to establish the Cherry Award program to recognize excellent teachers and bring them in contact with Baylor students. The first recipient of the Cherry Award was selected in 1991. The award has since been awarded biennially.