Award-Winning Faculty

Please meet our award winning faculty and hear their teaching philosophies.

In the Biology department, you will learn from some of Claflin's best teachers, including five winners of the James E. Hunter Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest award given to faculty for teaching at Claflin.

To be given this award, faculty must not only get extremely high ratings from students but also demonstrate a track record of effective advising, integration of technology in the classroom, and strong results in mentoring students.

  • Omar Bagasra M.D./Ph.D.

    Omar Bagasra M.D./Ph.D.Dr. Bagasra received the Hunter award in 2008

    “The transition from a paradigm in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is far from a cumulative process, one achieved by an articulation or extension of the old paradigm. Rather it is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals, a reconstruction that changes some of the field’s most elementary theoretical generalizations as well as many of its paradigm methods and applications. During the transition period there will be a large but never complete overlap between the problems that can be solved by the old and by the new paradigm. But there will also be a decisive difference in the modes of solution. When the transition is complete, the profession will have changed its view of the field, its methods, and its goals.” [1]

    The translation of new concept at an institution is a challenging task. To teach the modern biomedical sciences to achieve goals of changing the tradition that basic research actually is the major vehicle that moves the wheels of science education forward not the other way around. In my experience, any kind of transition has never been easy or painless—but in many ways, biomedicine is on the cusp of such a period of change, along with much of biology, microbiology and epidemiology. It is partly due to our growing new understanding of the functions of gene regulation and gene editing technologies (i.e. RNAi, miRNA and CRISPR/cas9), which may ultimately prove to be as profound and far-reaching as was the discovery of double helix of DNA in 1950s and development of recombinant DNA technology five decades ago. Furthermore, as with recombinant technology, this new approach should lend itself to many practical applications and engineered solutions—in health disparities, gender based disparities and many other variants in our susceptibility to different diseases.

    In light of rapid progresses in diagnostics and due to emerging technology, it is critical to keep our students updated and informed about the dynamic changes of biomedicine. A few years ago, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) brought a new revolution in the cloning andsequencing technologies. Currently, PCR arrays, Stem Cell based regenerative methods; Biotechnology, Bioinformatics, transgenic technology and most importantly Gene editing technology appear to bring new insight into every aspect of Biomedicine. During Bush era Biodefense had become the focus of the federal government funding; now it is Health Disparity Research, Forensics and Cybersecurity that will take the central stage and we need to be prepared for this paradigm shift. In the Information Age, the most valued commodities are the information and the skills to utilize the information by our students. Biomedical scientists and technicians are being challenged, as they never have been before. Workers are expected to know how to use wireless devices, computer-interfaced equipment, robotics, and high-technological applications. Soon, DNA fingerprinting will be the most commonly used method of forensic identification and medical record authentication. Whereas, retinal scans may be the form of personal ID. We need to be in this field as the pioneers and develop computer based record cards and microchip technology to beat the ivy leagues. The impact of technology on all of the world’s affairs has become increasingly obvious, and its presence in our students’ academic lives is subsequently more crucial than ever before.

    I believe that a teacher must prepare students for the challenges of the present time and open their minds to the unlimited future possibilities. This cannot be achieved just by teaching them materials from the course books. The goal should be broaden the vision of the world a student has. A well informed student is whose’ mind is open to the world not to his/her limited geographic area or culture. A broadly aware student who is familiar with other cultures, religions and ideologies not only makes a well-educated human beings but a very successful individual.

    [1] Kuhn, Thomas (1969) “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” in the Foundations of the Unity of Science, Volume 2, Otto Neurath, editor; University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 146-7. Originally published in 1939.

    View Dr. Bagasra's Profile

  • Nicholas Panasik Jr. Ph.D.

    Nicholas Panasik Jr. Ph.D.Dr. Panasik received the Hunter award in 2011.

    Teaching, especially in the sciences, has often taught from a “top-down” approach, with knowledge generally passed through lecture and applied in predictable laboratory experiences. This “Sage on the Stage” approach, while often employed due to the large amount of information that must be conveyed, turns out to be less innovative and productive for both professors and students and less effective at engaging students in crucial science careers. The collaborative, interdisciplinary, and exploratory nature of the sciences demands that we instill a critical and creative thought process in our students and this happens best when students are internally motivated to critically think about problems and creatively apply scientific concepts to solve them.

    At the heart of my style of teaching is incorporation of real research questions in the classroom and use of student-centered active-learning projects that explore real research-based answers. This is coupled with a pedagogical approach that uses a wide array of mediums (from teaching advanced video editing techniques to turning the students themselves into peer teachers) to present concepts in the course to the largest variety of learning styles. The added interest that is engendered in students when they find out they are working on authentic, cutting edge questions in the field, and begin to see how the knowledge they are learning is applied and used creates an indispensably powerful tool to motivate students not only to succeed academically but to consider research as a possible career goal. By making content available in a variety of learning formats it ensures that no matter who the student is, they find an approach to learning that works best for them.

    The same disciplinary research that keeps me up to date and fully engaged with developments in bioinformatics, protein folding, and protein structure determination also plays an important role in course development and content. I believe exposure to recent research benefits students by including them in the most exciting, rigorous, and vibrant activities of the academic community. More specifically, my research, in structure-function relationships and design of novel enzyme functions, serves as a fantastic medium to engage students at both graduate and undergraduate levels.

    In one example, as implemented in the education plan in my NSF Early CAREER Award, I teach an undergraduate biochemistry lab course. While students learn all of the traditional concepts and methods of a typical biochemistry course – protein purification, PCR, enzyme kinetics etc, they do this entirely in the context of a semester long project in the Directed Evolution of thermostable bio-fuel enzymes. The course begins with brainstorming how one might go about changing the function of an enzyme where exact structure-function relationships are not known and proceeds through the development (by the students) of the steps and protocols of a directed evolution project. This becomes a powerful context in which to discuss issues of evolution, selection, and common heritage as well as protein structure-function relationships and experimental design. Students are encouraged to come up with alternate approaches to these scientific approaches and we debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of both. By couching student contributions to discussion in the context of disciplinary methods and critical thinking strategies, I help students realize how the work in this specific class intersects with and illuminates other fields and scientific questions. This strategy has been particularly important with my freshmen and sophomore students who are thirsty for a big picture understanding of how their chosen career paths might intersect with this and other fields.

    Commensurately, in order for such a student-centered approach to work, a ‘teacher’ has to become acutely aware of the starting knowledge, academic preparation, interests and learning styles of the students he or she is prepared to teach. Only by mastering the learner’s point of view may the teacher become a true facilitator of learning. A key feature of my approach is to first learn about the students and then present materials in a fashion that can apply to the wide variety of their learning styles and interests. Beginning with a variety of interactive assessment approaches including first day questionnaires, learning style surveys, brainstorming sessions, and email discussions, I learn information necessary to tailor my lecture examples and lab classes to those that fit the students’ stated objectives in the course, compliment what they are learning in other courses, and finally, present course materials in multiple ways – each accessible to a different learning style. Several of these pedagogical methods for reaching different learning styles are currently submitted for publication in teaching and learning journals.

    One of the pedagogical tools that I have developed that I am most proud of, “Lecture Expertise”, has each student, once in a semester, film a course lecture. They have one week to use video editing software which I teach them to use, to edit appropriate PowerPoint slides into the video, accompanied by notes of the “Class Scribe” (another pedagogical tool). The students have full editorial control over the aesthetics and such projects typically elicit a great deal of excitement both at the scientific content of the lecture and in learning video editing skills. The editing in this assignment necessitates watching and re-watching the lecture for “splice points” and is a particularly powerful learning medium for visual learners. This method has been shown to increase performance on relevant test questions by over 12% and has led to a repository of over 80 lecture videos for students to use as additional study materials.

    Underlying these teaching strategies is my fundamental belief that teaching should be approached with the same academic rigor as other scholarly activities. I strive to remain engaged with the scholarship of teaching and learning and to use research-based principles to guide my classroom strategies. In this way I hope to provide the best possible environment for my students.

    View Dr. Panasik's Faculty Profile

  • M. Kamal Chowdhury Ph.D.

    M. Kamal Chowdhury Ph.D.Dr. Chowdhury received the Hunter Award in 2012

    The main goal of my teaching is to foster active learning. Majority of the students are eager to learn to develop them intellectually and professionally. However, their learning styles may be different. Moreover, students in a classroom generally are of with different levels of intellectual and learning ability on the subject matter.

    At the beginning of each course and also of each chapter I try to assess the knowledge level of my students in the class by asking them some basic questions. Similarly, I also try to understand their learning styles. Considering their knowledge level and learning styles I design and deliver my lesson where I utilize a variety of technology that supports their effective learning.

    I tell my students that learning is a process and mistakes are a natural part of the learning. I encourage them to actively participate in my class and persuade them to ask questions. I challenge my students with problems, the solution of which require critical thinking and also encourage them for brain storming among group members and also to work as a team. Wherever possible, I provide real life examples and incorporate most recent learning skills to meet future challenges.

    After delivery of lessons in a designed course, I routinely assess the learning outcomes and continuously redesign the course based on the outcome. I believe that the job a teacher is to create an atmosphere that foster creative and active learning. I also emphasize the importance of general education courses to add values and developing skills for building a strong foundation in any field of education that will ultimately prepare them for professional jobs with competitive salary.

  • Samina Shivji Ph.D.

    Dr. Shivji received the Hunter Award in 2014

    Mentors play a key role in molding student’s lives. I am deeply committed to excellence in teaching and mentorship. My teaching philosophy is to enrich students by providing them with clear and intellectually stimulating learning experiences, to empower them with knowledge and to guide them through examples and associated stories. As far as teaching is concerned, I take great pleasure in preparing my lectures well in advance and having a thorough grasp of the subject. I believe in creating a learning atmosphere by using a variety of teaching methods such as group projects, power point presentations, videos, internet resources, virtual labs, etc. I also contribute to the learning atmosphere by encouraging appropriate interactions among students. The exciting part to me is seeing the expression on the student’s faces at the outcome of the experiments conducted. The best part is that students also enjoy and take interest in what they have learnt.

    Diversity is an essential and important part in higher education. To achieve this objective, I always try to put emphasis on the practical aspect of theories and concepts of science. I always try to supplement theoretical concepts with laboratory based experiments and assignments. These methods not only impart knowledge but also foster critical thinking, which in turn facilitates the acquisition of life-long learning skills, prepares students to have a better knowledge of the subject, and develop problem solving strategies. 

    Through professional and personal growth, my basic philosophy of teaching and learning has and will evolve and change. The scholarly activities that I am engaged in have a significant impact on my development as a teacher. With my teaching, I always try my very best to be an inspiration to the students, so that they can be successful in their career and someday be an inspiration to the future generations.

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