Over the course of my academic and research career, I have become ever more convinced of the importance and essentiality of engaging, scholarly instruction and education. I have been and continue to be inspired by numerous teachers, mentors and educators who have fostered and encouraged the inquisitiveness with which I approach my research and teaching.
During my time as an undergraduate student at UNC-Wilmington, I was fortunate to participate in the honors scholars program. In addition to honors sections of general education curriculum courses, the program included topical seminar courses each semester during the first two years. These seminars were co-taught by instructors from different disciplines who approached course topics using an interprofessional dynamic. I found the seminars quite rewarding given that this approach to learning aligned with my own thought processes and curiosity. For example, as an undergraduate biology student I wanted to know not only the biology of the cell but also the chemistry behind it and the history of the discoveries associated with the facts. As a capstone to the honors scholars program, independent research projects are carried out. I was fortunate to work with two researchers who approached a similar interest in microbiology from vastly different perspectives. My honors project not only involved analyses of epidemiological data in a health care setting but also field biology and identification of marine bacteria associated with gastroenteritis—truly from bench to bedside.
The foundational education in biology that I received as an undergraduate, and further developed and expanded during my doctoral research, has served me greatly and I believe has been imperative for my success as a researcher. I have been very fortunate in my research career to apply on a daily basis the knowledge base afforded me by such marvelous educators. This has fueled my passion and commitment to become an exceptional educator. In teaching, my goal is to use my personal knowledge and experience to accentuate classroom presentations and discussions, helping to explain issues, ideas and concepts in a way that textbooks and more common presentations cannot accomplish. My hope is to inspire students through my own continuing personal and professional development, given my overall goal of combining both personal and professional interests into a satisfying and rewarding career, maintaining a life of purpose.
For me, learning is about more than just the facts on the page; it is about applying that knowledge to the everyday world. Being able to inspire enthusiasm and critical thinking in students is something for which I strive. I believe in a multi-disciplinary approach to education through a combination of the sciences and the humanities. By bringing these components into the instruction within the classroom, I believe that students receive a broader picture of the impact of the health sciences in their everyday lives and a better ability to apply what they have learned. By stimulating their intellectual curiosity and critical thinking, my goal as an educator is to encourage my students to seek solutions to the many challenges they face daily, while remaining sensitive to cultural and ethnic influences that define our reality today.
I believe students learn best when they experience the material, when it becomes more than just the page in the textbook or the slide on the screen, by using group and classroom activities, unconventional yet familiar technologies, and visualization of concepts. In previous class presentation evaluations, students have commented on my style of teaching as a “great combination of [both] lecture and hands on.” For the past several years, I have been the course professor for a series of graduate courses focused on statistical methods for health care research. In these courses, students conduct secondary data analyses with actual clinical research data. Students pose research questions using the datasets provided that can be answered with the statistical methods learned in the course. Results are then presented using concepts of data visualization or in the form of a manuscript draft written in the style of peer-reviewed journal. This affords students the opportunity to become facile in using appropriate statistical methods as an exercise to give a context to the principles and concepts addressed in the course, allowing them to experience the research process from concept to execution to dissemination of results. I have adapted materials from these courses for guest lectures in both undergraduate and graduate nursing courses, focusing on research methods.
I use my personal knowledge and experience to accentuate classroom presentations and discussions, helping to explain issues, ideas and concepts in a way that textbooks and more common presentations cannot accomplish. Assessments and learning activities are geared toward not only mastery of the course material, but also understanding and experience in research. For example, an academic journal club is part of each of the courses I teach. This activity and assessment not only engages students in a discussion of the concepts and objectives of the course, but also gives them tools to use in assessing the peer-reviewed literature, examining the research process, and discussing findings. This aspect of my course is so well-received and popular that graduate students who are not enrolled in my courses have requested to attend these discussions to learn how to assess the literature better. Additionally, I am very keen on the use of multimedia presentations and experiential learning to facilitate the interest of students in the subject at hand, using various graphics, sound bites, video clips, and classroom activities to illustrate the points of the presentation and to engage students.
Mentoring students to apply the content from their courses and readings is an aspect of the faculty-student relationship that is most enjoyable. My goal as an educator is to provide experiences for students that foster their maturity, advance their skills in their chosen area and guide them in developing responsibility and accountability. By its very nature, I believe that exceptional teaching is built upon integrating relevant research and personal experience into the instruction, offering students current and relevant learning opportunities. By synthesizing and distilling information in an effort to make complex ideas and concepts more understandable and accessible to students, I hope to lend an exceptional clarity to the material.
I use course objective integration maps for the courses that I teach based on the taxonomy of learning presented in L. Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. This taxonomy includes six levels of learning as it relates to pedagogy: foundational knowledge; application; integration; human dimension; caring; and learning how to learn. Learning activities map to the course assessments, which map onto one or more of the course objectives. Additionally, how each course objective maps onto Fink’s taxonomy is considered.
I believe that my philosophy and approach to teaching will only be strengthened as I gain additional experience inside and outside of the classroom—truly a life-long process. I continue to dedicate time and resources toward the application of teaching-learning theories and practices that foster my effectiveness in teaching. I continue to attend workshops and seminars on effective teaching strategies and syllabus and course design. I believe that to be an exceptional educator one requires dedication toward the goal of excellence. I intend to constantly explore opportunities to gain greater insights into my strengths as an educator and researcher, and hold a commitment to life-long self-improvement toward my goal of becoming an exceptional educator and scholar. I will make every effort to create powerful course designs that lead to integrated courses where the students I teach not only learn the content, but also are able to apply it to unfamiliar situations, integrate it with other knowledge, and explore why the material is important to them and how it affects their lives.
Moreover, I seek out opportunities to garner feedback on my performance in the classroom not only from my students but also from peers to help me continue growth as an instructor. These opportunities for feedback are key to achieving my goal of becoming a successful educator. Evaluations and comments for all courses remain very positive, with students describing me as “an excellent and caring instructor” with “excellent teaching methods and style” and being provided with an environment that “allowed for optimal learning.”
In summary, I wish to give back those qualities that have meant the most to me during my academic research career: inspiration, application of the health sciences to the world around us and the pursuit of a life of purpose. I hope to foster within my students a love of learning and to share my research experience and innovations with both my students and colleagues.