September 2, 2003 - The Diamondback: Fiji RPCV Dave Theison dies in Maryland
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September 2, 2003 - The Diamondback: Fiji RPCV Dave Theison dies in Maryland
Fiji RPCV Dave Theison dies in Maryland
Read and comment on this obituary from the Diamondback for Asstronomy Professor Dave Theison, the former Peace Corps volunteer and Jerry Garcia look-alike who had a fondness for good bourbon, and who sat with a drink in hand almost every Wednesday while meeting with his students at Cornerstone Grill and Loft at the University of Maryland. Friends and family said Theison was an idealist, tirelessly working to improve the university and the undergraduate science experience. Students said Theison never lost his youth and dedicated many hours getting to know his students personally. Former student Caleb Armstrong took two classes from Theison and became his friend in the process:
"Dave found interesting ways to reduce the science he taught so people who weren't science people could learn it," Armstrong said. "He'd teach through the material rather than from it ... I hope people will take the time to go to the Mars Room and just see the stuff that he was interested in, see how much work he put into what he was doing. He was, in my opinion, the best teacher this campus has ever had."Theison was cremated and his ashes will be scattered in Fiji where he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Our condolences to friends and family of Dave Theison. Read the obituary at:
DAVE THEISON, 1949-2003*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
DAVE THEISON, 1949-2003
Astronomy professor was beloved by students, respected by peers
By Katy Devlin
Astronomy instructor Dave Theison worked at a desk in the basement hallway of the Computer and Space Sciences building because his office was too crowded with sci-fi action figures and posters, stacks of books and issues of the tabloid Weekly World News.
The former Peace Corps volunteer and Jerry Garcia look-alike had a fondness for good bourbon, and he sat with a drink in hand almost every Wednesday while meeting with his students at Cornerstone Grill and Loft.
But on Aug. 21, the tenured instructor who had worked at the university since 1977 died at his Laurel home at the age of 54.
"The university has experienced a huge loss," said Honors Program Director Maynard "Sandy" Mack. "No campus ever has enough people who put undergraduates front and center as Dave did. I just wept when they told me [about his death]."
Theison taught several astronomy courses each year, including ASTR 380: Life in the Universe, HONR 259M: Science in Science Fiction and HONR 268R: The Cultural Significance of Astronomy.
Friends and family said Theison was an idealist, tirelessly working to improve the university and the undergraduate science experience. In 1997, he voluntarily created the Mars Room, located on the fourth floor of Hornbake Library. And in an attempt to reach more students, he began a lecture series across campus detailing the scientific details of sex in space.
"We've lost our best instructor for undergraduate non-science majors," said Andrew Wilson, a long-time colleague in the astronomy department. "He was the one who could hold their interest and bring them back."
Wilson said Theison never lost his youth and dedicated many hours getting to know his students personally. Former student Caleb Armstrong, a 2000 graduate of the criminology criminal justice department, took two classes from Theison and became his friend in the process.
"Dave found interesting ways to reduce the science he taught so people who weren't science people could learn it," Armstrong said. "He'd teach through the material rather than from it ... I hope people will take the time to go to the Mars Room and just see the stuff that he was interested in, see how much work he put into what he was doing. He was, in my opinion, the best teacher this campus has ever had."
Andrew Hayden, a former teaching assistant and student, agreed: "Part of the personality of the [astronomy] department is gone. ... After you spend one semester with Dave you know you want to take more."
Theison, a Wisconsin native who received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, taught physics and astronomy for almost four years while in the Peace Corps. After earning his master's degree from the university, he taught in Japan and Korea, where he met his wife of 17 years, Kyong.
"Dave loved to teach. His life was teaching students," she said. "His life was all run with his students in mind."
Theison received awards for his teaching efforts, including being named "Outstanding Instructor" in the computer, mathematical and physical sciences college in 1998. He was also a Lily Center for Teaching Excellence fellow from 1998 to 1999.
Astronomy department Chair Lee Mundy said Theison's two classes for next semester will be held, but no instructor will be able to affect students the way Theison could.
"I think his accomplishments are clear from the students he reached and the awards he received," Mundy said. "We will miss him and the experience he could have provided for so many more students."
Theison is survived by his wife, his parents Burdette and Patricia Theison, brother Scott Theison, sister Cory Bartelt and dogs Luna and Zippy.
"He loved his dogs so much, and they miss him very much," Kyong said. "They still look for him every morning."
Theison was cremated and his ashes will be scattered in Fiji.
A memorial service took place August 26 in Laurel. A service for students to attend is in the planning stages. For more information about the student service, contact Andrew Hayden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More about Dave Theison
Read more about Dave Theison at:
Dave Theison's Personal Home Page
Dave Theison has been on the faculty of the Astronomy Department at the University of Maryland, College Park since 1977. During that time he has taught several different versions of introductory astronomy (lecture, self-paced and video) as well as junior and senior level courses on special topics such as life in the universe, stellar evolution, comparative planetology, and cosmology. While on leave from the College Park campus, he has taught many of these same courses to students in Japan and Korea under the auspices of the Asian Division of University College. Theison has been an outside reviewer on more than a dozen astronomy textbooks and has written textbook supplements such as student study guides, instructor's manuals, and test banks. In addition, he has written a 249-page graduate teaching assistants handbook and does what he can to improve the instructional skills of teachers on the astronomy faculty. Before coming to the University of Maryland, he was a member of the U.S. Peace Corps and taught physics and astronomy at the University of the South Pacific in the Fiji Islands. As a member of a curriculum development team for the South Pacific region, he wrote teacher resource books on the life sciences and lab manuals in the physical sciences. Why he left the South Pacific and the magnificent southern sky is still a mystery, particularly to him.
Theison has received numerous teaching awards for his classroom work and motivational skills. In 1998, he was named "Outstanding Instructor" in the college of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and during 1998-1999 he was a Lilly-Center for Teaching Excellence Fellow. In 2000, Theison was one of three science teachers selected in a state-wide competition to participate in the Millenium Speakers Bureau sponsored by the Maryland Humanitites Council and The Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000. Theison's current work, mainly for the University Honors Program, involves creating innovative classes designed to teach science to non-science students. Two such classes, "The Science in Science Fiction" and "The Cultural Significance of Astronomy" are now offered. He has also created a new video-based version of ASTR100 (supplemented by naked eye and binocular observations) for the Astronomy Department.
At present he lives in Laurel, MD, only eight minutes from Laurel Park Racecourse where he has spent many an afternoon observing stars of a quite different sort than those he views in the evening hours. An international award-winning amateur photographer, Theison's other interests include dreaming of Chippewa Falls, WI, and Loretto, KY, listening to Jimmy Buffett, and searching for the perfect frozen margarita (a Maker's or a martini will do, in a pinch).
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Fiji; Obituaries; University Education; Astronomy