May 19, 2014

Professor Glenn Denning, director of SIPA’s MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP), will receive a Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger at the University’s commencement ceremony on May 21.

Denning, an expert in international agricultural research and development, is a professor of professional practice in international and public affairs and also director of the Earth Institute’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) New York office. He is one of five professors who will receive the award for which more than 500 faculty across the University community were nominated.

In a letter expressing “complete and enthusiastic endorsement” of Denning’s nomination, Dean Merit E. Janow of SIPA noted that “students rave not only that he inspires them to learn more about agriculture and food systems than they ever imagined possible, but that he is one of the most caring and dedicated faculty they ever have encountered.”

Janow praised his leadership of the MPA-DP program and his use of diverse instructional methods—case studies, debates, field trips, guest lectures, and more—as an instructor in Global Food Systems, a required course for all MPA-DP students.

After receiving word of the award, Denning expressed his gratitude to Janow and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs for their support and encouragement: “Being able to draw on remarkable colleagues at both SIPA and the Earth Institute is an enormous asset of our program and such a privilege.”

Denning also suggested that the award recognized the importance of building practice into the SIPA curriculum. “As a practitioner directly engaged in policy development and implementation, I am able to share real-world experience with students in real time,” he said. “I sense they like that.”

Denning came to Columbia in 2009 to serve as founding director of the MPA-DP program established jointly by SIPA and the Earth Institute. The MPA-DP soon became the first program in an international network (now known as the Global Association of MDP Programs) created and initially supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The MPA-DP program emphasizes multi-sector problem solving in sustainable development and today serves as a model for at least 25 educational institutions around the world. Under Denning’s leadership, the program continues to organize and host Global Classroom: Foundations of Sustainable Development Practice, a web-based course that fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration and allows students and teachers from around the world to hear from leading development experts and to participate in collective assignments and learning experiences.

Current students and recent alumni joined Janow in supporting Denning’s nomination, sending enthusiastic letters that praised Denning for his passion as a teacher, administrator, and mentor.

Denning is “always responsive to any of his students’ concerns—whether academic, career-related, or personal,” wrote Talia Smith MPA-DP ’14, a current student. But what truly sets him apart, she noted, is “his infectious passion for his craft—specifically, agricultural development.”

Maria Wang MPA-DP ’12 wrote that Denning helped arrange an internship in Timor-Leste that “brought the issues of nutrition and food security to life.” The experience, she said, inspired an idea for a social enterprise that led her to an entrepreneurship program at Stanford Business School and professional contacts who recommended her for her current position as a country support manager for the Clinton Health Access Initiative. “Looking back,” she observed, “one inspired decision by Prof. Denning had multiplier effects.”

“I have been consistently impressed by Glenn’s tireless dedication to his students, his affable and easy-going nature, and his emphasis on making all learning practical, both inside and outside of the classroom.” wrote Jessemin Sheyda-Losick MPA-DP ’12, who took four classes with Denning. “From a career standpoint, the practical tools Glenn provided in the classroom, as well as his guidance in the field, have given me tangible assets that I utilize every day in my current position” as senior director of planning at Sustainable Travel International.

A native of Australia and graduate of the University of Queensland, Denning worked from 1980 to 1998 at the International Rice Research Institute in Manila, playing a pivotal role in rebuilding Cambodia’s agriculture sector. In 1998, he and his family moved to Kenya, where he worked for six years as a senior director at the World Agroforestry Centre. In 2004 he helped establish and lead the Nairobi-based Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Centre, a project of Columbia’s Earth Institute that provided scientific and policy advice to governments and other stakeholders as they worked to achieve MDGs.

In a letter notifying Denning of the award, Bollinger wrote that faculty members on the award nominating committee were “deeply impressed by your extraordinary record as a teacher and mentor as well as the moving testimony of students, past and present, to the influence you have had on their lives. You exemplify the ideal of the great teacher that this award is designed to recognize.”

Established in 1996, the presidential awards “honor the best of Columbia's teachers for the influence they have on the development of their students and their part in maintaining the University's longstanding reputation for educational excellence.”

Denning is the second SIPA faculty member to receive the honor, joining Andrea Bubula, who received the award in 2008.