The Jean Brierley Award for Excellence in Teaching

Thomas Lee

Associate Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment
College of Life Sciences and Agriculture

Thomas Lee

"The most common question that I get from frosh and sophomores is, ‘When do I get another class with Professor Lee?’"
—a colleague

When Tom Lee won a Teaching Excellence Award in 2005, students lauded the professor’s knowledge, his passion, and his ability to truly tell the story of a forest. Among Lee’s admirers was Tim Horvath, an MFA student who had enrolled in a summer ecology course with Lee’s blessing despite his lack of background knowledge. A year later, Horvath published a prize-winning short story called “The Understory” about a botanist’s relationship with the land. The story’s precise rendering of a forest’s succession in the aftermath of the Hurricane of 1938 and its eloquent descriptions of species like sweet birch, blackberry, and cinquefoil were a direct reflection of what he learned from Lee.

Across the board, from undergraduates to PhD candidates to colleagues at UNH and beyond, Lee is described in superlatives backed with genuine admiration. One colleague puts it this way: “I’ve known several Brierley Award winners—all were great, but none better than Tom Lee.” Another notes that, “The most common question I get from frosh and sophomores is, ‘When do I get another class with Professor Lee?’”

An associate professor of natural resources and the environment, Lee has taught at UNH for 29 years. He says his enthusiasm for teaching only continues to grow and emanates from two sources: his students and his classroom. That classroom is the outdoors, whether it is as close as the University’s College Woods or as far as the Pawtuckaway Range in Deerfield and Nottingham or the Ossipee pine barrens. At the end of the semester, Lee wants every student to leave his classes with three things: an understanding of the principles and concepts of ecology, a better understanding of humanity’s place on the planet, and an understanding of what science is and how it works.

And while many of the students Lee teaches will go on in their careers to put into practice the principles and concepts of what he has taught them, others will simply have a better compost pile because of those principles and concepts. Still others will become award-winning writers, inspired by Lee’s ability to capture the natural world and humankind’s place within it.

—Kim Billings

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