Tony Crider: Innovative and inspirational

Tony Crider, associate professor of physics, receives the Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Tony Crider’s love of learning is transparent to anyone who knows him. His colleagues describe him as “deeply attentive” and “devoted, persistent and electric.” His former students call him “fiercely supportive” and “energizing.”

Crider’s personal energy and eagerness is infectious. “I don’t ever recall leaving a class feeling frustrated because I couldn’t understand a new concept. More often than not, I walked out of class still in discussion with my classmates about what we had been talking about that day,” said a student.

Crider has the unique ability to effectively communicate science to both experts and non-experts alike, ensuring each student that they are capable of handling the material. This outlook creates an empowering and inclusive classroom environment for all majors, even in the potentially intimidating field of astrophysics.

Through his mentorship, students recognize that their doubts serve as an important step in their own learning, and that their questions will be met with openness and encouragement.

“Professors will fade into one or two memorable quotes, and courses will be condensed into one of the many papers that I might be lucky enough to remember. But this is not at all the case with Tony Crider. When asked to recount my favorite class or teaching experience from college, I immediately come back to the ‘Life in the Universe’ course,” said a student.

The course challenges students to think critically and existentially about human life and the potential existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. The course ends with another interesting aspect of Crider’s teaching style, his approach to the final exam:

“Tony realized that final exams should be starting points not ending points, uplifting rather than anticlimactic. He has redesigned many of his classes to reflect this philosophy, pondering seriously the question: ‘What do I want my students to remember six months, one year, three years from now?’ It’s a kind of long-term thinking that we too often ignore,” said a colleague. 

Instead of a written test, students are instructed create a role-play simulation to secretly construct alien civilizations based on plausible biological and cultural backstories.

“Seeing the students immersed in discussion and applying all of the knowledge they learned throughout the semester make me rethink my preconceived ideas pertaining to the purpose of a final exam,” a colleague said.

Crider is the 44th Elon faculty member to receive the award established by President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley ’46 and his late wife, Verona Daniels Danieley, in honor of their parents.