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Honors & Awards Ceremony 2005

The School hosted its annual Honors & Awards ceremony on Tuesday, May 24, at 5 p.m. in the Wolfe Street Building's Sommer Hall. The ceremony was followed by a reception in the Gallery on the first floor of the Wolfe Street Building.

Awards recognizing the achievements of faculty, students and staff were presented from individual departments, the School as a whole, the alumni association, the Interaction Community Outreach Program and the Student Assembly. Program and List of Awards

Among the many honors given, the Student Assembly bestowed three Golden Apple Awards—as the Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award is called at the School—on a trio of faculty members, highlighted below:

Vincente Navarro   
Stephen Teret   
Marie Diener-West 

Vincente Navarro, Small Class Size

Vicente Navarro won a teaching award at the School back before the Golden Apple Award was even invented. “The students gave me an award for ‘the best course taught in a foreign language,’” he remembers. “My Spanish accent was very strong and still is. It took 10 years to be awarded the best teacher for the best course, without reference to my accent.” He won his first Golden Apple in 1982 and the second one in 1990.

This year, he is receiving the Golden Apple for his course, “The Political Economy of Social Inequalities and Its Consequences for Health and Quality of Life,” which he has been teaching for five years.

Navarro, MD, PhD, DrPH '69, professor in Health Policy and Management and International Health, was invited to join the faculty of the School in 1965, after leaving Spain in 1962 and studying economics in Sweden and social policy in Great Britain. He says that he had always been interested in academia, but that teaching happens in many ways. “I think teaching takes place in different forms, not just in classrooms,” he says. “Teaching is interacting, putting forth your ideas and seeing how they [students] react.”

Dr. Navarro’s students see him as a teacher committed to his cause. “He makes public health issues mean something and puts them in a context that is tangible and helps you understand things in the real world,” says Gila Neta, a PhD student who took Dr. Navarro’s winning course this past year. Neta says Dr. Navarro drew upon his experience as a consultant to Hillary Clinton on her health care reform plan and as part of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. “If it weren’t for Dr. Navarro, there would be a significant gap in the School in terms of the politics of health.”

Amanda Vogel, another PhD student who was his teaching assistant for his Politics of Health Policy course, agrees. “He’s an idealist and committed to social justice issues. That comes through in his scholarship and his teaching,” she says, citing that her class had explored in depth the politics behind public health events. These included President Bush’s Clear Skies initiative, as well as bioterrorism response policy, scientific integrity in federal policymaking, the spread of managed care in Latin America, gun control policy and prescription drug re-importation.

Sule Calikoglu, a PhD student in HPM, was a TA in the course for which Dr. Navarro won the Golden Apple. “Most people are talking about inequities in health, but very few are talking about the political determinants of health and inequalities,” she says. “In other classes, we hide our values behind the claims of scientific objectivity, but Navarro points out that science is not neutral, and public health is politics in its most profound sense.”

And he encourages students to think about how to use what they learn in the world. “He forces you to think critically so that you can apply what you learn. He says that the most important thing is what you do with it. Students like that,” she says. She remembers when Dr. Navarro read to the class an email he’d received from a former student, a doctor who now working in Haiti. The doctor wrote about the ways social class determines health care in Haiti and how the political and economic contexts of the country were affecting the health of the population. “Dr. Navarro likes to bring social activism to class and share his experience in academia as well as in politics.” –Kristi Birch

Stephen Teret, Medium Class Size

Although Stephen Teret, JD, MPH, remembers being scared out of his wits just before he taught his first class, in 1979, he was even more agitated after this first-ever teaching experience.

“I was a trial lawyer back then,” says Teret, professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health. “Trying cases in the courtroom had been my principal occupation. So, at the end of that class, I was quite upset when the students simply got up and left. I found myself wanting to run after them, shouting, ‘Wait a minute: Nobody’s told me who won! You can’t just walk out without telling me if I won or lost!’ ”

There’s no longer any doubt that Teret is a winner: He’s just garnered his third Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching. (He uses the first two as book ends in his office.) He says this third one is especially sweet.

“The first time I won, I thought to myself: I’m glad I got it, but it’s a shame I pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, because I don’t deserve it. The second time, I thought: Funny that I could fool them twice. I’ve been here 25 years and got my first Golden Apple in 1984, and the second in 1989, so this third one relieved my suspicion that I obtained the first two fraudulently.”

Teret believes a good teacher’s most important attribute is the ability to convince students that the teacher is speaking to each one individually. And the only way to do that, he says, is to genuinely feel that’s what you’re doing. “The very worst class I was ever in as a student, I got the feeling the entire class could have snuck out of the room and the teacher wouldn’t have noticed.”

Another thing he swears by is Powerpoint—not. Teret eschews all slideshows. He likes to keep the lights up in the classroom, talk directly to the students and look into their eyes so he can determine whether they get it. He points out that an instructor who uses slides or Powerpoint, instead of focusing on the students, often turns away from them to look at the screen. “It’s a mistake,” he says, “to let a Powerpoint presentation drive what you’re saying, rather than you deciding what you need to tell the class at that given moment.”

Teret never set out to become a teacher, but he always thought it to be a noble profession and today he says it’s a good fit. “Whenever I travel and meet new people and they ask, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘I’m a teacher.’ ” –Rod Graham

Marie Diener-West, Large Class Size

Marie Diener-West, PhD, professor of Biostatistics at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is no stranger to the Golden Apple. This year’s winner in the large class category, she will receive her fifth award. Diener-West is a co-instructor of Statistical Methods in Public Health, a four-term course sequence serving as a basic introduction to biostatistics. It aims to teach students how to use statistical concepts, interpret data in public health and medical literature and develop data analysis skills. Diener-West also co-teaches Quantitative Methods, the School’s first internet-based course.

“This School has the most fantastic group of students. They are so motivated and have such unique backgrounds. It is great to witness the light bulb moments when biostatistics becomes understandable and fun for them,” said Diener-West.

Having taught well over 2,000 students in the last 14 years, Diener-West is a well liked and respected faculty member. She said the biggest challenge to teaching an introductory biostatistics course is dispelling a common initial belief by incoming students that biostatistics is an intimidating and unfamiliar topic. Using examples from current academic journals and other publications, Diener-West attempts to show students how biostatistics plays a role in their every day lives.

Over the years, students have displayed creative ways of making biostatistics fun by writing biostatistics poetry, which can be found on the class web page (http://www.biostat.jhsph.edu/~courses/bio621/), as well as a rap song, a one-act play and one student even knitted a hat that included statistical symbols in the pattern design.

“When students express biostatistics concepts artistically, this indicates that the subject carries over into their day-to-day lives; they realize that biostatistics goes beyond the classroom in many ways,” said Diener-West, as she smiled widely. Diener-West also said she enjoys hearing from previous students after they leave the School and apply their statistical skills in their professions.

During four of the past five years, a Biostatistics faculty member teaching a portion of the Statistical Methods course sequence has received a Golden Apple award. In 2003, James Tonascia, PhD, was recognized, as was Scott Zeger, PhD, in 2002, and Diener-West received her fourth Golden Apple for teaching this same series in 2001.

This past December, Diener-West was installed as the inaugural Helen Abbey and Margaret Merrell Professor of Biostatistics Education, which was established to promote the quality of biostatistics education for public health scientists and professionals. – Kenna L. Lowe