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May 14, 2007

Faculty Recognized with 2007 Golden Apple Awards

Since 1992, the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association has annually recognized university faculty who excel in the art of instruction with its Excellence in Teaching Awards. The award allows each academic division of the university to publicly recognize the critical importance of teaching. The nomination and selection processes differ by school, but students must be involved in the selection.

The following faculty members are recipients of the 2007 Golden Apple awards, as the award is called in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Homayoon Farzadegan, Epidemiology, Small Class

Homayoon Farzadegan

It’s a rare teacher that can hold his students’ attention in a class that meets late Friday afternoon.

But Homayoon Farzadegan, PhD, professor of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is up to the task.

“The time of the class on Fridays was awful, but he kept it really interesting,” says Zunera Gilani, a student this year in Farzadegan’s Epidemiology and Natural History of Human Viral Infection. “He’s such a warm and genuine person and just made the class fun to be in.”

Farzadegan’s abilities to engage students—sometimes under less-than-ideal conditions—earned him the Golden Apple, as the teaching award is known at the School, in the best small class category.

“I strongly believe in stress-free learning,” says Farzadegan, who won his first Golden Apple in 2002. “My teaching philosophy is to provide a relaxed environment to diffuse knowledge and exchange ideas.”

On the faculty since 1985, Farzadegan is an easily recognizable figure around the Bloomberg School’s Wolfe Street building, with his grayish hair pulled back in a short ponytail. A native of Iran, he first came to the United States in 1969 to complete his graduate studies, then taught at Tehran University School of Medicine. He emigrated to the United States in 1980, following the Iranian revolution in 1979, and became a U.S. citizen 18 years ago.

Besides Epidemiology and Natural History of Human Viral Infection, which earned him the Golden Apple, Farzadegan’s annual course load consists of the Public Health Impact of HIV/AIDS, Advanced Topics on Controls and Prevention of HIV and Applied Aspects of Cohort Studies.

Farzadegan and Keerti Shah, professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, developed the Epidemiology and Natural History of Human Viral Infection course in 1999 and taught it together. The course covers the biology, epidemiology and progression of diseases caused by human viruses. Since 2002, when Shah cut back on his teaching schedule, Farzadegan has taught the course solo.

He augments his course lectures by opening his classroom to a “parade of experts” from Hopkins’ various schools and centers to talk about their work in human viral infection and epidemiology. He also has students get together in small groups to review the latest literature and findings on a selected topic and lead a class discussion.

Often, Farzadegan draws on the expertise of his students, some of whom have impressive resumes in public health. An MPH student from India talked to the class about working on HIV prevention programs there. Another student discussed her research on HIV and malaria co-infection.

“I learn a lot,” he says. “And I’m sure that students, by exchanging their ideas and opinions, learn a lot too.”

In addition to his teaching duties, Farzadegan has been involved in HIV/AIDS research for more than 25 years in two of the oldest and largest ongoing cohort studies on the disease—the Multicenter AIDS Cohort (MACS), which began tracking the occurrence and consequences of HIV in a group of homosexual and bisexual men in 1984, and the AIDS Linked to the IntraVenous Experience project (ALIVE), for which Farzadegan oversees the virology component. The study has followed HIV progression in injection drug users since 1988. He also designed the School’s first biosafety level 3 lab for work with potentially lethal infection agents.

“In research, what I gain is relatively narrow in my area of expertise, but when I teach, the horizon is expanded,” he says. “That’s why I look forward to going to class.” – Jackie Powder
 

Clive Shiff, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Small Class

Clive Shiff

Among Clive Shiff’s many gifts is one of understatement; asked to explain the appeal of Biology of Parasitism, one of two courses that he teaches cited in this year’s Golden Apple teaching award, he offers a bemused smile. “Well, I’ve got a fair amount of experience with parasites,” he says, “so I fit nicely with the subject.”

In fact, Shiff, PhD, spent close to thirty years working as a field biologist and medical entomologist in the ministries of health and agriculture in the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he was born and raised. Today he’s an internationally known malaria expert and associate professor in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health—and a two-time Golden Apple honoree. He last won in 1990.

Shiff left Rhodesia in 1979, during the country’s tumultuous transition to an independent Zimbabwe, and began his teaching career at UCLA. He arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1986, but returns to Africa at least twice a year to visit the malaria research station he helped found in Macha, in rural southern Zambia. The center is not far from the Zimbabwe border, and his beleaguered former homeland is never far from his thoughts: On his office wall hangs a vintage postcard of Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare, its serene streets lined with blooming jacaranda trees. “I’m third-generation African—that’s all I know,” he says. “I feel completely invigorated whenever I go back.”

His deep background in the region provides vital material for his teaching. He developed Tropical Environmental Health, a two-unit course, to take advantage of the work he once did as a government health official, working to develop efficient pit latrines and water pumps for use in remote villages. When it comes to parasitology, there are few African bugs that Shiff has not encountered over the course of his career. “That’s the beauty of having field experience,” he says. “You can use personal anecdotes. I come from there, so I know what people are up against.”

With his droll manner and courtly accent, Shiff makes a charming tour guide, but the emphasis is on practical advice. His courses draw a diverse assortment of students, from Peace Corps veterans to engineers, and he frequently receives letters from former students who employ his teachings in the field. “It’s interesting to see the reverberations,” Shiff says. “It’s nice to know that at least some of these principles are useful.”

Inspired by a former chemistry professor who could weave beautifully structured lectures from notes scribbled on a pack of cigarettes, Shiff works without written notes, and his courses emphasize student participation. “In a small class you have plenty of time to interact with the students,” he says. “That’s the best aspect—you can really get to know them.”

He also believes that sometimes the best teacher can be another student. “I try to get students to talk about their own experiences,” he says. “It gives the others an opportunity to see what might be in store for them.” –David Dudley
 

Sharon Krag, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Medium Class

Sharon Krag

For Sharon Krag, PhD, the Bloomberg School’s Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research, the Golden Apple couldn’t have been sweeter.

When Krag retires next month after more than three decades at the School, she leaves behind a long and substantive list of accomplishments in teaching, administration and research, but until this year the School’s annual teaching award had eluded her. 

“It’s funny,” says Krag, professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “I was thinking about four or five months ago, ‘Well, I’m going to retire, but I’ll never win a Golden Apple.’”

But it turns out that Krag wrote herself off too soon. When the 2007 Golden Apples were announced last month—two-and-a-half months before her retirement—she was among the winners.

 “It feels spectacular, I couldn’t be more excited,” says Krag, who despite winning the 2002 Stebbins Medal—one of the School’s highest honors—for her contribution to the teaching program at the School, wanted to retire with a Golden Apple.

“The Stebbins Medal is given by the faculty,” she explains. “What makes the Golden Apple extremely special is that it’s from students. It’s their feelings coming out.”

The award recognized Krag’s course, Public Health Biology, designed to provide students with an understanding of the biology of infectious diseases, inherited diseases and cancer, as well as how these diseases affect populations in terms of public health. Other courses developed and taught by Krag, who joined the School’s faculty in 1976, include Biochemistry, Molecular Biology of Disease, Research Ethics, and Public Health Perspectives in Research.

As a professor, Krag says it’s important to her to engage students in discussions, a challenge in a course like Molecular Biology of Disease, which typically numbers between 50 and 70 students.

“You have to walk around and you have to make eye contact,” she says of her teaching style. “You have to enjoy interacting with students in order to pull that off. And the course started with about 20 students back in the old days, so it just kept expanding.”

Named as Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research in 1992, Krag is responsible for the PhD, ScD and ScM programs and oversees research compliance in general, including the School’s Human Research Protection Program, animal research, export controls and issues related to scientific misconduct. Since her appointment, she has kept up a punishing workload, continuing her teaching and research, which currently focuses on maximizing N-glycan occupancy in therapeutic glycoproteins.

Now, she says, “I’m ready to do other things.”

“To me this is a 24/7 profession, and so in the last third of my life—and I intend to live for 40 more years—I want to do whatever the hell I want to do,” Krag says. “I want to read all those books that I’ve bought and never had a chance to look at, I want to write a couple books. I’m very interested in bringing science to the lay public. I especially want to spend more time with my family, and I want to do my birding and anthropology.”

Krag’s last day at the School is June 29. When asked what she will miss the most, she doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, the people—my colleagues, the students, the staff. It’s just the people.” – Jackie Powder
 

Leon Gordis, Epidemiology, Large Class

Leon Gordis

One might think that Leon Gordis, MD, DrPH, MPH, would have mastered Principles of Epidemiology by now. Not only has the veteran professor taught the course for more than three decades, giving generations of students their official introduction into one of medicine’s core disciplines, he also wrote the book: His Epidemiology, now in a recently updated third edition, is one of the field’s essential intro texts. Still, Gordis isn’t phoning it in yet. “Even after all these years, I spend hours on every lecture, he says. “You have to have a little anxiety, a little adrenaline. If you get too comfortable up there, that’s a bad sign.”

A senior faculty member at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and a professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, Gordis first took the stage for Epi 1 in 1974, when longtime chairman Abe Lillienfeld suffered a coronary while teaching the class (he was revived by students) and Epidemiology faculty scrambled for an emergency substitute. “No one else had taught it before,” he says. “There was a tremendous amount of anxiety.” The next year, Gordis, then department chair, officially inherited the big 8:30 a.m. class. It’s a required rite of passage for most Public Health students, and enrollment has sometimes swelled to more than 400. “Back when we were in the East Wing auditorium, they weren’t even in the same room,” he says. “You could only fit about 230, so we ran overflow rooms.”

From a teaching perspective, engaging this vast and sometimes drowsy crowd can be difficult. Recent curriculum changes mean only about 175 students are currently enrolled for Gordis’s class—a comparatively intimate gathering by historical standards—but the professor’s strategy remains the same. “I try to read their faces,” he says. “And I try to be interactive, even with large groups. I pause a lot to let them ask questions. The challenge is learning to wait—one has a tendency to just forge on.”

An informal question period with students after every class also helps personalize the multitude. The course has changed location several times over the years, but Gordis prefers the older facilities over the newer halls, with their stadium-style seating and stage lighting. “It changed from being a place for a class to a place for an audience,” he says.

Also in flux is the course content, which needs to reflect the present state of the field. The study of population-wide disease incidence and prevalence has seen dramatic developments over the decades, and Epi 1 has kept pace. “I always bring in new material,” says Gordis, who notes that teaching also helps him keep his textbook updated. “You learn a lot from your students. They’re very insightful. And you can’t have a better milieu for it than here.”

Obviously, the respect is mutual: This year, Gordis pockets his sixth Golden Apple. “It’s nice when you hit 72 and people still remember your name,” he says. –David Dudley
 

Edyth Schoenrich, Health Policy and Management, Internet Class

Edyth Schoenrich

Edyth H. Schoenrich, MD, MPH, is trying to figure out how to slice up a Golden Apple. This month, Schoenrich will receive her first Golden Apple for Current Issues in Public Health, an Internet-based course. But she insists that she does not deserve the entire award.

“This class is a collaborative effort,” says Schoenrich, a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “Slices belong to all of the faculty members who have shared their knowledge and wisdom, to the extraordinary teaching assistants and to the technology support staff. Two factors have strongly contributed to the success of this course. One is the quality of the presentations made by the faculty. The other is the hunger of our Internet students to be more closely involved in the intellectual life of our school.”

Current Issues in Public Health is offered from September through May during four terms, each of eight-weeks duration. Every two weeks, a faculty member records a presentation that is uploaded onto the Internet which the students can then download at their convenience. The next week, that faculty member participates with Schoenrich and the teaching assistants in a live talk with the students. Students can also, at any time, communicate through online bulletin boards.

An expert in clinical education and practice in internal medicine and general preventive medicine, Schoenrich is also director of part-time professional programs and associate chair of the Master of Public Health Program.

Her motivation to teach the course is related to personal experience. Schoenrich received her masters in public health from Johns Hopkins in 1971, while she was working full-time for the Maryland State Department of Mental and Hygiene. “I remember leaving work each day, catching a bus, dashing into the School to listen to a lecture and then immediately leaving to catch a bus back to work,” said Schoenrich. “So I have a special understanding of the difficulties part-time and Internet students face. They don’t have the same access to academic resources and to the intellectual life of the school that full-time students receive when they personally interact with their classmates and instructors. I wanted to open these opportunities to our Internet students, who are spread all over the world.”

Current Issues in Public Health is unique in that it isn’t a required class for any particular program of study and students earn just one credit toward their degrees. “For prospective students, the course allows persons to explore options for a future in public health,” says Schoenrich. “For matriculated degree candidates, it broadens the perspective of persons who are committed to improving the health of the world’s people and the environment in which they live.” — Kenna L. Lowe

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.