Dr. Susan Whittemore, Leader in Undergraduate Research, Named Distinguished Teacher of the Year by Keene State College
Dr. Susan Whittemore, Professor of Biology, is the recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Teacher of the Year. The award is presented annually by the Keene State College Alumni Association to recognize excellence in teaching, encouragement of independent thinking, rapport with students, and effective student advising. Professor Whittemore is the 42nd recipient of this distinctive honor and has earned the award for her excellence in teaching and advising.
Dr. Whittemore joined the Keene State Biology Department in 1993. She teaches courses in animal physiology, endocrine disruption, introductory biology, and classes for non-majors. After receiving a B.S. in Wildlife Biology from S.U.N.Y. College of Environmental Science and Forestry, she worked as a wildlife technician at Cornell University for four years. She then earned an M.S. in Wildlife Biology, studying coyotes at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Predator Ecology and Behavior Unit at Utah State. She obtained her Ph.D. and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in physiology at Dartmouth Medical School.
Dr. Whittemore considers scientific research to be one of the most potent and robust educational experiences available to her students â for this reason, she has remained committed to maintaining an active program of undergraduate research at Keene State. Her current research program involves identifying the mechanisms of toxicity of certain common pollutants during development. In 2010, she was awarded an ongoing grant from the National Institutes of Health's New Hampshire IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Program, or INBRE, to support her research and undergraduate training efforts.
Below are Dr. Whittemore's remarks upon receiving the 2012 Distinguished Teacher of the Year award.
Seeking Out the Real Deals in Education: Undergraduate Research and Mentors
By Dr. Susan Whittemore
My sincere thanks to the Biology students and colleagues who nominated me for this award and to the Alumni Association for the recognition. I haven't stopped smiling since I heard the news and I am very grateful.
Welcome new students! My remarks, this morning, are for you.
I love to teach and my favorite form of teaching, by far, is undergraduate research, which typically takes place outside the classroom and in the research lab. I also love to mentor and it's no coincidence that undergraduate research allows for the close mentoring of students. So, I'm going to talk to you briefly about why you should get involved in creative or scholarly work and why you should develop close, productive relationships with faculty and other mentors. And, I will end with a little advice about how to get the most out of these important benefits of college life.
While at Keene State, you should think beyond the classroom and look for additional ways to make the most of your education. I encourage you to get involved in undergraduate research and/or creative efforts, where you can work and learn in collaboration with faculty and possibly peers to generate new knowledge or novel forms of expression. I have worked hard over the past two decades to maintain an active undergraduate research program in biology because I've observed such tremendous growth in those students who become deeply engaged in the complex process of doing real science. It is challenging work because the answers to the questions we ask can't be found in a book or online or anywhere else. Instead, my students and I have to figure out how best to answer the questions we've generated, an effort that requires a great deal of problem-solving and collaboration, skills that are highly desirable. Furthermore, my research students enhance their communication skills by presenting their findings to others. And, we are fortunate here at Keene State to have a terrific venue for the presentation of student scholarly and creative work in the annual Academic Excellence Conference.
Tackling challenging work builds confidence and enhances many of those skills that will help you to prepare for the next important transition, into the workforce or on to graduate school or for whatever you plan to do after graduation. I've watched my research students become more competent and confident when required to integrate the knowledge and skills gained from their coursework into successful research efforts.
Undergraduate research also builds community and close relationships with faculty and among students at all stages of their education, from first-years to seniors. My students will tell you that our lab has become a sort of home, a safe house for science nerds. And, because I work so closely with these students, often over several semesters, I get to know them very well and learn more than I would ordinarily about their personal and professional ambitions as well as any obstacles to achieving them. Engaging in undergraduate research allows me to provide a deeper level of mentoring that is very gratifying to me and highly beneficial to my students.
Being a mentor and a teacher is very rewarding because you get to help people achieve their goals. But it can also be quite challenging because you have to respectfully communicate to those students you are mentoring or teaching what's working well in the classroom or research lab and what needs improvement. Over the past two decades, I've sadly noted a trend toward an increasing number of students who aren't prepared to accept and value critical feedback that was given to them in the spirit of enhancing their academic and future success.
What do I mean by "accepting criticism?" I mean listening to or reading comments without taking offense, without getting defensive or giving excuses, finding out what you need to do differently, and then actually doing it. Remember that even the most talented among us can benefit from timely critical feedback; continual improvement is a life-long endeavor. Your professors and other mentors wouldn't be doing their jobs responsibly, wouldn't be taking your desire to be successful seriously, unless along with the praise, they also dished out lots of specific ideas for how to do it all better.
So, be very brave. Seek out those challenging experiences and courses and those professors and mentors who take you seriously and tell you like it is. Cash in on the real deals at Keene State and make the most of your education.