Rebello Receives Presidential Award

Soon the nation will find out about Sanjay Rebello what K-State already knows: Rebello is a shining example to future generations of researchers.  Rebello, an assistant professor of physics, was presented with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at a White House ceremony May 4,2004. President Bush named and honored 57 of the nation's most promising young scientists and engineers with the awards.  The award honors and supports the extraordinary achievements of young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers in the fields of science and technology.

“This award is given to very few young scientists and engineers,” said Dean Zollman, head of the K-State physics department.  “To have a member of our faculty invited to the White House to be honored in this way is a very strong indicator of the strength of his research.  Our department has known for some time that Sanjay is an outstanding young scientist.  This award shows that this opinion is also held by very high-level officials in the United States government.”

"Sanjay is also an outstanding teacher.  He is truly a valuable asset to K-State."  Rebello was previously awarded a $436,000 CAREER award in 2002 from the National Science Foundation for research that focuses on learning by college students and involves developing physics curricula for future elementary teachers. CAREER awards were presented to about 300 researchers. Of the 2,900 CAREER awards made since the program began in 1996, only 140 have received presidential recognition.

Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers nominees are annually selected from among the most meritorious new CAREER awardees that show exceptional potential for leadership.  This Presidential Award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.  Twenty CAREER awardees -- slightly more than 5 percent of all CAREER awards made in 2002 -- are selected to receive the prestigious presidential award.  Each was honored at a White House ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Rebello's research essentially involves discovering how students construct their own understanding about everyday objects, as well as what kind of mental resources and cognitive processes they use to construct this understanding.  "We are trying to gain some insights into how students think and how they learn," Rebello said.  "The contexts that we are looking at include everyday objects."

Rebello and co-workers in the K-State Physics Education Group conduct interviews, teaching experiments and surveys to collect data on how students reason through problems and their explanations or "mental models" of how objects work.  "We investigate students' ideas and how they change as students go through the introductory physics course," he said.  "We find that students may not discard these mental models, but incorporate them with the concepts they learn in class."