Mills College, CA
- Bio 001: General Biology I (majors)
- BIO 043: Tropical Marine Conservation
- BIO 100: Microbiology (upper division)
- BIO 181: Immunology (upper division)
- HSSM 001: Hellman Summer Science and Math (non majors)
- Bio 004: Introduction to Biology (non majors)
- Bio 033: Genetics: Human Aspects (non majors/majors)
- BIO 041N: Microbiology for Nurses (non majors)
- Bio 091: Biological Inquiry (majors)
- BIO 135: Genetics (upper division)
Teaching and Pedagogy Statement
Education is a dynamic process that expands knowledge and allows innovative ideas to be introduced and considered. As a scientist, I develop hypotheses, collect evidence, analyze, and report the outcomes. This is a largely independent process, but it takes many scientists working together to answer a question. Our classrooms are often experienced as the professor imparting knowledge to the student. However, imagine applying a process similar to our research in which we engage students in a partnership with their learning at the center. Indeed, I believe students learn best when we center their learning in our teaching. Therefore, my teaching philosophy focuses on students building meaning through their lived experiences while exploring the process of scientific inquiry. I integrate multiple modalities for generating knowledge, examine perspectives from different angles, while continuing to acknowledge student perspectives.
To be scientists my students need to connect, synthesize, and apply the material. My approach uses active learning strategies that support multiple learning styles on different platforms, utilizes immediate feedback, and allows me to adjust my teaching to engage students. Currently, I use a flipped classroom, where students are asked to watch 5–10-minute videos before class. Each video has a brief introduction, so personal contact is maintained, and presents the topics being addressed. However, this video technique does not work for all learners. So, each class is built with the framework of allowing space for questions; both before, during, and after. In this modality, and interspersed throughout traditional lectures, synchronous contact focuses on group work, where questions, case studies, or small projects are given to the students to work on collaboratively. This allows them to apply concepts into contexts, supports feedback, and fosters cohort support.
In my laboratory, I weave in foundational concepts with project-based learning. Students are challenged with practical and theoretical research projects. For example, in microbiology, my students conduct a three-month independent research project to isolate and identify a single bacterium from a mixed-species culture. The students manage their experiments, independent of the scheduled laboratory, determine when they have isolated their organism, and perform diagnostic tests from the literature. I mentor them through their failures, reminding them that science is not about perfection and that mistakes bring opportunities for discovery. In this process, I encourage them to solve problems and, if necessary, repeat experiments. This allows them to develop key skills and thus advances their understanding of laboratory techniques.
Furthermore, student identities influence the way they learn, so knowing who they are is as important as what I am teaching them. Many of my students are underrepresented in the sciences, which means they bring life experiences that are often neglected within my field. For instance, in teaching immunology, I am frequently reminded of the gender binary emphasis that my discipline has supported, and I recognize the negative, exclusionary impact this has on some of my students. Now, when I discuss autoimmune diseases, I emphasize the role of hormones and anatomy instead of reinforcing the gender narrative. By spending more of my time thinking about how phrasing and language impact my students, I can help women and other marginalized students persist, ultimately supporting diversity among scientists.
These lived experiences can also be leveraged in other ways to support student retention and success. In many of my classes I use a case-based approach. Students pick topics that spark their curiosity; this might be a bacterium, an autoimmune disease, or a disorder such as vitiligo where the exact cause is unknown. Then, they are challenged to research their topic and apply the concepts we are exploring in class. Occasionally the process is poorly described, so I urge the students to think critically and to interpret the mechanisms with their current knowledge, which sometimes means their answers bring perspectives I had not considered. Focusing the task on their experiences, especially as many of the topics affect them or a family member, establishes increased relevance for the student and can positively impact their learning.
Additionally, I challenge students to examine the material from various perspectives, believing that observing from an opposing viewpoint can allow them to understand the topic in a different and maybe meaningful way. Ethical discussions examine topics such as antimicrobial resistance: how can society provide adequate access to drugs that can be prohibitively costly, what impact do antibiotics have on the environment, and how can we educate the public about the increasing prevalence of resistance. Other assignments acknowledge socioeconomic, legal, and political aspects. For example, a newly introduced vaccine in a pandemic when you are a Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPoC) or how policies designed to prevent the spread of a virus affect those that are housing insecure.
Scientific literacy is key to our success as authors and grant writers. For science to thrive we must communicate clearly to all audiences. In my class, we read papers, interpret findings, and discuss the outcomes in several formats: from journal clubs, to written assignments, to presentations. Writing assignments are given throughout the semester, with clear guidelines and rubrics. Their work is returned with feedback that communicates my expectations for future improvements. Some assignments, particularly those early in the semester, can be edited and turned in for a new grade, or replaced by other assignments completed later in the semester. However, writing is not the only focus. Presentations occur throughout the semester, with advice given around slide construction, clarity, audience awareness, body language, and delivery of content. Although these are the formal communication tools of my discipline, I also encourage students to be aware of not only verbal feedback, but also non-verbal feedback, as interactions between peers is critical to our success in all areas of our professional work. Regardless of their skills when they enter the class, I encourage my students to become better communicators when they complete my course.
I thrive in the collaborative relationships that I develop with students in which I nurture their curiosity, encourage their sense of belonging, and challenge their assumptions. My commitment to innovative teaching centered in student success helps me empower the next generation to persist and succeed in the sciences.