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May 19, 2009

Faculty Recognized with 2009 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 2009 Golden Apple awards, as the award is called in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Winners, Golden Apple 2009

From left: Farzadegan, Tsui, Diener-West, Gundlach.

Marie Diener-West, Biostatistics, large class

Upon receiving her sixth Golden Apple Award, Marie Diener-West suggests a statistical principle to partially account for her multiple honors.

"I think that there is a correlation with the length of time I've been teaching as well as the size of the class," says Diener-West, the Helen Abbey-Margaret Merrell Professor of Biostatistics Education and chair of the Bloomberg School's Master of Public Health program.

Although it's her sixth time around—this year, for the course Statistical Methods in Public Health—Diener-West says that the recognition is still a "thrill."

"It really is a vote of confidence from the students, which I greatly appreciate," she says.

Since Diener-West became MPH chair last year, she has had to cut back on research projects but has maintained her teaching responsibilities.

"Teaching a large class while being chair of the MPH program helps me to have a better idea of what's going on with the student body," she says. "I would dreadfully miss teaching and seeing the students."

Diener-West began teaching introductory biostatistics courses in 1990. Since then, the course material has evolved to reflect changes in the field, and she says that students enter the class with a greater level of sophistication with the subject matter.

Still, Diener-West says she's aware that the topic of biostatistics strikes fear in the heart of many a public health student.

"A common sentiment [among students] is that math is the subject they hated the most, or they have an innate fear of math because of a bad experience with a class or they don't yet see the utility of the skills," she says. "This course is not a math course per se; rather it uses math to develop statistical skills both in critical review of the public health and scientific literature, as well as data analysis."

This year, Diener-West and her co-instructor, Biostatistics chair Karen Bandeen-Roche—with support from a team of teaching assistants and lab instructors—taught Statistical Methods in Public Health to approximately 500 students split into two lecture sections. For labs, students met in smaller groups of 35 to 50.

"The goal is that students feel comfortable in the classroom, and that they know it is an open environment in which questions can be asked and concerns expressed," Diener-West says. In her years of teaching the course, she says, she has noticed that it seems to inspire some students to undertake surprising feats of creativity.

"What has been really remarkable to me is that many students taking statistics find that they use the other side of their brain to connect with it," she says. "We've had a number of what we call 'biostatistics art contributions.'"

During the 90-minute class lectures—"far too long to keep going in one stretch"—she typically takes a short break to share artistic projects that students have sent in—"statistics poetry, art, a one-act play, songs with statistics lyrics," she says. "It shows you that statistics is not as dry as people think. It's not just a science, it's also an art, and spurs some other artistic tendencies."
— Jackie Powder Frank

Homayoon Farzadegan, Epidemiology, Internet class

Connecting with students isn't easy—especially online—but for four-time Golden Apple recipient Homayoon Farzadegan, his ability to connect using technology is the key to his students' success.

"I try to go beyond the standard prerecorded lectures and encourage the sense of an online learning community," Farzadegan says.

Farzadegan, a professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology, is this year's winner for an Internet-based course. Epidemiology and Public Health Impact of HIV/AIDS is a mix of lectures, live talks by experts on related topics and group presentations developed by students.

Farzadegan promotes an online open-door policy to foster communication with students.

"I encourage my students to talk to me and to each other—it's the best way to learn," Farzadegan says. "All emails and questions submitted by students are answered typically within 48 hours; this ensures my students don't fall behind if they are confused by a subject or topic. If you are available to students, they feel it and are more encouraged to learn."

Farzadegan is happy to tell anyone that teaching is his passion, and he works to ensure that his students learn in a relaxed and stress-free environment. Whether online or in class, he admits that he, too, is a student and learns a great deal from his students and teaching assistants. He credits them with pushing him to present the most relevant and up-to-date materials in interesting ways.

"Dr. Farzadegan is one of the most dedicated professors I know. When it comes to his students, he spends a lot of time thinking about how to present material in a way that will be effective and engaging—this is particularly true of his online courses," says Meghan Davis, a Bloomberg School doctoral candidate.

Looking to the future, Farzadegan says he believes that online courses will become a major component in education, as the classes give students the flexibility to view lectures at their own pace and from various locations. In the past, he has had students from up to 10 different countries participating in a course. With this in mind, he now offers all three of his courses online and on campus. Over time, he says, he has seen the online courses gain popularity and open doors to students with lifestyles that prohibit them from traveling to class several times a week.

Farzadegan credits the success of Epidemiology and Public Health Impact of HIV/AIDS to the many "bright young minds that walk the halls of the Bloomberg School and my colleagues, who through state-of-the art lectures, share their expertise and experience with my students."
— Natalie Wood-Wright

Ann-Michele Gundlach, Health Policy and Management, small class

The timing couldn't have been better for Ann-Michele Gundlach's third-term course, Foundations of Leadership.

The first class met one week after the Jan. 20 inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, an event that provided the raw material for class discussions about a new style of leadership in Washington, D.C.

"Here we had this public model of an individual who was being held up as a model of leadership, and it was very useful to have certain events that we could use as touchstones for discussion throughout the term," says Gundlach, who won a 2009 Golden Apple in the small-sized class category for that course.

An adjunct assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Health Policy and Management, Gundlach learned of the award from a student who came to give her the news in her office. "I was blown away," she says. "I had not a clue, so it was very special."

Gundlach says that in the Foundations of Leadership course she aims to give students a framework for understanding the process of working with and leading others in the public and private health sectors.

"It really is a course on how leaders think and behave," she says, "and it's designed to get people thinking about what's required when you take on the mantle of leadership and all of the attendant complexities and responsibilities."

For the three main class assignments, students write a "personal best" leadership case study from their own experience, interview someone in a formal leadership role on a specific aspect of leadership that interests them and develop their own leadership model, in philosophy and practice.

"One primary goal of the course is to give students the opportunity for some personal exploration rather than to study leadership as an academic," she says.

With health care reform at the top of President Obama's agenda, some recent class discussions touched on how leaders in that field must be ready to adapt to the coming changes.

"What's going to happen in this country will be daunting, and the old rules of engagement won't necessarily apply," Gundlach says. "Organizations are much more networked than ever now, much more horizontal. There are lots of people in different roles that you have to motivate and move in the same direction, without always having traditional formal authority.

"Outside of clinical research, health care is not known for its experimentation, but we're going there," she says. "And, of course, younger folks are much less wedded to traditional models."

Gundlach has a 25-year background in consulting for health care services organizations, in both the public and private sectors. In 1982, she began teaching a class at Johns Hopkins in organizational development, and in 2000 she joined the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management, where she serves as the associate director of the Master of Health Administration program and co-director of the MPH concentration in health leadership and management.

According to Gundlach, the transition from consulting to teaching was a natural one.

"Good consulting is educational. Good consulting is a learning exchange with your client," she says. "Client[s] should not just be told what to do. They should have learned something and be taking away new ideas and new ways to think."
—Jackie Powder Frank

Amy Tsui, Population, Family and Reproductive Health, medium class

Without a doubt, Amy Tsui says, teaching is one of the best ways for faculty to shake up their routines and learn new things. Both substantively and in terms of teaching, "student interaction grows faculty," and working with students can also inspire teachers to "get caught up on technology," says Tsui, who this year took up text messaging and began using YouTube videos in the classroom.

A first-time recipient of the Golden Apple, Tsui attributes her teaching success to her accessibility. Students know that she'll respond to their emails—even if at odd, jetlag-induced hours—and that she's available for appointments in which she'll help them find opportunities for internships, jobs, grants and awards. "I think students are entitled to access," says Tsui, a professor in Population, Family and Reproductive Health and director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.

"We all know that public health doesn't make anybody rich," she says. This fact, paired with the cost of tuition, is part of what compels her to help in any way that she can.

The one-term Family Planning Policies and Programs course attracts students whom Tsui finds diverse, international and great to work with. And even though there's a lot of material to cover, the students keep up: "They're on a treadmill, but they're motivated," she says. The course includes group presentations and discussions, but students are also required to calculate, measure and interpret data. "There's science behind the field," she says, and one of her goals is to make sure that her students are armed with up-to-date methods and information. As testament to the course's popularity, this year 80 percent of the students took it as an elective.

Some of the course's lessons often surprise its students, particularly in regard to how contraception-use profiles vary so greatly around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where the social climate does not support condom use, injectable birth control is the most popular. In China, the younger generation embraces IUDs and sterilization. And in India, with significant populations that are poor, the average age of sterilization for women is 25.

But even after 20 years in the classroom, Tsui has her share of surprises, too. It's been seven years since she's taught Family Planning, and this time around, she says, she felt like she had to catch up. "The patterns in the U.S. have shifted a lot," she says. Examples? "Friendship with benefits, for one." Also, emergency contraception is more popular now, and long-term continual use of contraception, such as birth control pills, is being replaced by more sporadic measures based on relationship status.

In graduate school, Tsui was drawn to the study of population growth, which was seen as an emerging international threat. But from there, she became interested in fertility, and from there pursued research into contraception and family planning. The more she learns, the more passionately she advocates for family planning. "If a woman can't control her pregnancy, she has no control over her life," she says. Paraphrasing a colleague, she says that there's no reason why pregnancy should mean a woman has to put her life on the line.

"In this school we learn more about death and disease than we do about birth and life," Tsui says. But she says she believes that prevention is all about living a healthy life, and that fertility—with all the debates, discussions and efforts to understand and manage it—has everything to do with health.
— Christine Grillo

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