For Fort Lewis College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Katie Mouzakis, being a good teacher boils down to a simple mantra: “If my students are learning, then I am doing my job.”
It sounds like an easy thing to do, but being a truly effective teacher is anything but. For Dr. Mouzakis, ensuring that what she’s offering her students is what they need is a constantly evolving process, but one in which the 2016-17 FLC New Faculty Teaching Award winner is succeeding.
“Regardless of the topic, I look to see that my students are excited about learning, confident in themselves and their abilities, are gaining independence, and are ready for new challenges,” she says. “I have many course specific metrics – for example, can a student apply what they know about intermolecular interactions to explain the thermodynamics governing protein folding – that I use to measure student learning. If I am doing my job, my students are meeting and exceeding the learning outcomes I set for them.”
One of the wonderful/challenging things for professors at Fort Lewis College is the remarkable diversity they see in their students. For Dr. Mouzakis, it means tailoring her classrooms to the needs she finds in the students sitting before her, which is a lot of work, but also offers amazing opportunities.
“I see an incredibly wide variety of students in my classes,” she explains. “All have distinct educational goals, backgrounds, and interests. What motivates each of them is inherently different. As a result of this diversity, each class I teach has a unique atmosphere that makes teaching and learning interesting. Even when students don’t realize it, they all have something unique to offer that contributes to that environment.”
One example is a student who came into Dr. Mouzakis’ lab with no real research or biochemistry experience. She taught and then challenged this student, bringing her on as a research assistant in the lab over the summer. The results?
“By the end of the summer, my student created an improved RNA construct to use for our chemical probing experiments, cloned the DNA needed to synthesize the RNA, and contributed to an additional collaboration with a group and the University of British Columbia on an RNA structure they were working on.”
As impressive as Dr. Mouzakis’ accomplishments are, she recognizes that she doesn’t do it alone. She is quick to give credit to her colleagues who help and push her to learn and grow as a teacher to better help her students.
“The chemistry department at FLC is home to dedicated and enthusiastic educators committed to student learning and undergraduate research,” she says. “This infrastructure and group of colleagues has truly enabled me to do what I came to Fort Lewis for – to make a positive impact on the lives of my students.”