At every level of education, science is learned by failure and subsequent problem solving (often, many times over). My primary goal as an educator is to develop an environment of active learning that allows students to experience trials & errors and use them as opportunities to develop advanced problem-solving abilities. When my students learn how to adapt their approach, revise a hypothesis, or improve communication, they build confidence as independent scholars and are armed with the tools to explore individual curiosities.
As a trained environmental toxicologist, my passion for education and research is fueled by current global health challenges at the intersection of biology, environmental science, and medicine. In this framework, successful solutions rely on interdisciplinary education, creative problem solving, communication, and teamwork. As such, my approach to scientific education is built on these four distinct principles set in an environment of active student learning, in which I emphasize student discussion, peer teaching, and experiential research.
1. Interdisciplinary Education: To become thoughtful learners and successful scientists, I teach students in an interdisciplinary format, where a single issue is discussed from multiple perspectives. For example, I developed the course, Global Health 395: The Global Impacts of E-waste Exposure and E-waste Recycling Policy on Maternal and Fetal Health to assess a biological issue (exposure to toxicants in electronic waste) from the lens of health, social, economic, and political perspectives [Course syllabus]. In this course, the students spend time assessing each of these perspectives independently, and then determine how the perspectives interact to influence the health of the community.
2. Creative Problem Solving: I aim to develop each student’s creativity and problem-solving abilities in preparation for the many societal challenges they will face after graduation. In my course, students create team research projects to address the complex problem of electronic-waste exposure through one perspective of their choice. I encourage students to explore their creativity through group brainstorming approaches and feedback from classmates. Each project team designed and executed deliverables that would best address their research question and learning style [Class profile].
3. Science Communication: My students gain experience in both formal and informal communication, crucial skills that are often under-explored in traditional science curriculum. My students practice communication through literature reviews, policy reports, formal class presentations, and graded writing assignments, in which I provide detailed feedback and improvement [see the Policy team's deliverable: Policy brief]. Furthermore, we discuss how to relay complex information to nonexperts and the public. As students in my course are divided between science and policy students, they learn how to explain their perspective on the same issue to nonexperts in their fields. I also encourage community engagement opportunities, and some of my students presented their work in Duke SPLASH, a community outreach program focused on middle and high school students [Presentation].
4. Teamwork: I foster teamwork at all stages of learning, including group writing and presentation projects and peer teaching. I have found that student teamwork succeeds best when students see how their individual work relates directly to the group output, so each year culminates in a large team project that compiles individual work into an overarching project [Collaborative research poster].
Using these four principles, my goal is to shape independent thinkers that can consider many viewpoints, critically assess data and media, communicate effectively, and collaborate with others. These traits not only help develop successful scientists, but they prepare all students to be life-long learners and make a difference in their communities.