Teaching Philosophy

Below is a statement on my Teaching Philosophy. For specific courses taught, please see my Curriculum Vitae.

Biology is a subject that everyone should have at least a baseline familiarity with. The subject itself encompasses many aspects of everyone’s lives – ranging from basic understandings of modern medicine to the genetic modification of organisms to how our ecosystems function and how we as a species have the power to alter them. It is because of these topics, and those related, that I feel the subject should be made easily accessible for all people, rather than solely academics. Alongside these practical applications of the field, the study of biology should also impart the ability to think critically and develop solutions to often complex problems. Regardless of a student’s chosen field, the ability to think critically and apply knowledge will be invaluable.

I have, over the years, developed a genuine joy for teaching biological topics at the undergraduate level and my approaches to teaching frequently employ problem-based learning and the direct application of knowledge, rather than rote memorization of topics. I believe that, while there are topics that require some ‘memorization’, the theoretical or practical application of knowledge imparts far more wisdom and is, in the long term, more beneficial to students. Alongside problem-based learning, I enjoy challenging students to go beyond what they know, within reason. I find that failures, rather than success, often impart greater wisdom and knowledge than our victories. To this end, I encourage my students not to lose motivation when they fail or encounter stumbling blocks, but to embrace it as the invaluable learning experience that it can be.

To accomplish these goals in a classroom, I prefer challenging students to develop hypotheses and then provide them with the tools need to test said hypotheses. While this may seem challenging, the end task is to apply what they have learned in an attempt to explain their observations. This approach creates a unique dynamic that allows students to explore interests, but in a guided way that promotes the scientific method and empowers students to apply what they learn.

I believe that my role as an educator need not stop once I leave lecture room or teaching lab. Research is a powerful avenue for students to further their understanding of both simple and complex topics in not just biology, but many other scientific fields of study. I frequently recruit undergraduate students to work with me and provide them with the opportunity to select from a number of research topics and questions. Research requires an acceptance and embracement of failure (sometimes frequently) and passion that is driven by curiosity, for it is curiosity that keeps the vast majority of us in science. I strive to encourage the undergraduates that choose to work with me to ask questions, develop their own ideas, and work to make my project a project that we can share.

As a scientist, it is my duty to impart knowledge upon others. I believe that it is an obligation and call that must be answered when possible. I frequently share my research in plain ways (jargon free) to the non-science public in hopes to not only share my work, but to impart the sentiment that science is indeed something that everyone can appreciate. I believe that science should be open and inclusive to all, rather than isolated to academics and current students. Because of this belief, I frequently try to explore new avenues for sharing my work with others in meaningful ways, avoiding complex jargon that oft turns individuals away from science. I believe that we should work to foster a society that frequently asks questions and embraces failures, for when we admit failure, we are that much closer to uncovering the truth.

Sample of anonymous student evaluations (2014-2020, not in order)

  • “Michelle was honestly so wonderful. I was very nervous about using R because I have struggled with coding in the past but she was so supportive and helpful. She created such a perfect learning environment for me and made sure no one ever felt stupid for struggling with the work we were doing.”
  • “Michelle is one the best TA’s I have had in college. She is enthusiastic and explains the material well. she always encourages us to ask questions and offers additional help to anyone that is struggling. I have stayed after class many times to understand material I was unsure about, and she has been very helpful and willing to answer all my questions. It is obvious that she knows the subject very well, and her enthusiasm and genuine interest helps make learning more enjoyable.”
  • “Michelle was knowledgeable and passionate but most importantly she was able to trouble-shoot and reroute as needed. She was accessible to students inside and outside of class time to ensure the success of her students.”
  • “Michelle’s persistent, positive mood always made the discussion way more comfortable for me. She always helped to guide us through a complicated question and clearly explained any expectations for questions in the problem sets.”
  • “Michelle was very open to questions of all kind. Rather than just telling you the answer, she engaged in conversation with students to ensure that we understood the information as a whole, not just the question at hand.”
  • “Michelle was honestly so wonderful. I was very nervous about using R because I have struggled with coding in the past but she was so supportive and helpful. She created such a perfect learning environment for me and made sure no one ever felt stupid for struggling with the work we were doing.”
  • “I really enjoyed discussion for this class because the group work was really helpful for understanding difficult concepts. Being able to talk in an open forum style classroom was really helpful and both my undergrad and grad TAs were very helpful explaining things. I almost always had questions and they always had answers that really helped me gain a better grasp on a concept that I previously struggled to understand. I always found Michelle very helpful, but she was especially helpful with the switch to online learning. Having that weekly discussion zoom was so incredibly helpful and I’m so glad I got into a good schedule of making time for it every week. I would not have been as prepared for quizzes, discussion problem sets, and exams without that weekly zoom call. Michelle was also very good about being available to her students when needed. I’m really thankful that I had such wonderful TAs because it definitely made my experience in the class 100% better. Thank you, Michelle and Kira.”
  • “Michelle was such a helpful TA and always helped us out as much as she possibly could. Sometimes my group would be unable to understand a concept and she would never think twice before explaining the same thing again. She’s very responsive to emails and is always considerate.”
  • “Michelle always had our best interest at heart and always worked towards creating a learning environment that benefits everyone (despite people being at different knowledge levels and having different learning styles).”
  • “Michelle, I know that me being in your discussion section was by chance, but I really am glad that to turned out that way. You’re super sweet and really passionate about Biology and that made discussion all the more fun. Thank you.”
  • “An absolutely amazing lab instructor. The combination of PowerPoints and lab instructions provide a very strong method of delivering information, and the diagrams are relevant and useful to the dissections. This was probably the most enjoyable class I have taken this semester, and by far the best lab I have taken during my education at WKU. The class was always able to end within the 2 hour time period, but the lessons never felt rushed. Even in the fetal pig dissection, the utilization of peer dissections that clearly displayed the target organ/organ systems, allowed for a streamlined dissection process. This lab has been an absolute blast! Thank you.”
  • “Michelle is a great lab instructor. She is very patient and willing to help us out if we are struggling and she makes that very clear. She helps make a very challenging lab as easy to understand as possible. I can’t think of one thing she doesn’t do to help her students.”
  • “Michelle was the most helpful TA I have had on campus this far. She really goes the extra mile and challenges you to think. She`s tough and I may get a B but she is always prepared and makes sure you are learning the material instead of just trying to get a grade. A+ for Michelle in my book.”
  • “My professor for this course (Michelle) is a fantastic teacher. She gets very into her lessons which makes the class more fun, and she tried so hard to get everyone to understand what she is teaching us. Her quizzes and exams are difficult but you learn so much from this course if you apply yourself.”
  • “Michelle, you have been absolutely wonderful! I have learned just as much from you as I did in lecture! Often, labs helped when studying for exams during lecture. I appreciate all your constructive feedback. WKU is very lucky to have a TA like you! Good luck in all you do. We will miss you.”