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Dr. Heather Giebink Honored as the recipient of the 2016-2017 Paul M. Althouse Outstanding Teaching Award

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Heather Giebink

August 2, 2017 – The BMB Department’s Peer Teaching Evaluation Committee, Chaired by Dr. Tracy Nixon, selected Dr. Heather Giebink to receive the 2016-2017 Paul M. Althouse Outstanding Teaching Award for her consistent excellence and devotion as she teaches at many levels in large and small classes.

A love of science blossomed on the small dairy farm Giebink grew up on, as each time the vet stopped by her farm she always found herself right in the thick of things asking questions and wanting to know what was happening. Overtime, her love of science remained strong, but it was her interests within science that began to change. As a high school student, and even as an undergraduate student, she found her interest drawn toward the molecular level of science. Giebink attended Union College, a small liberal arts school in Schenectady New York, and then the University of Michigan to continue her graduate studies.  She later earned her Ph. D. in Biological Chemistry from the University of Michigan and in 2012 made her way to Penn State.

As a teacher, Giebink tries to emulate and draws inspiration from her protein biochemistry professor at Union College, Dr. Fox.  It was the way Dr. Fox taught the class that made all the difference.  Her approach was unique in that you weren’t just sitting at a desk, listening to a lecture- the students were up out of their chairs and moving around the room.  In addition, Dr. Fox was an advocate of her students working together to solve a problem. Giebink recalled a time when Dr. Fox was teaching about amino acids and their properties. Signs with different properties were placed around the room and each student was given a name of an amino acid. She would call out a different property and the students would hurry to place themselves around the room where they should be. “It was fun.  You were learning and having fun at the same time and it took away that pressure that you sometimes feel in a classroom” Giebink said. This same model is applied within her own classrooms, highlighting a teaching style that is active and engaging with students leaving class having learned something, but also saying “that was fun”.

Giebink currently teaches three courses at Penn State; BI SC 2, BMB 211 and BMB 442.  BI SC 2 is a general education course for non-majors and focuses on how living organisms inherit their traits, how plants and animals have evolved, and how they now interact. This course is her favorite to teach as these students show the greatest transformation; going from a student taking a course to complete their science credits to a student realizing they have an interest in learning more.

BMB 211 is also a general education course for non-majors that provides an overview of biochemistry, including properties of biomolecules, bioenergetics, metabolism, nutrition, genetics, and molecular biology. Giebink refers to this course as her most challenging because it is an entire semester of Biochemistry and has a significant amount of content to cover.  Additionally, the course provides the challenge of engaging students that may never again do anything biochemistry related.  Her BMB 442 class is her lab class, and due to the fact that it is much more hands on, her most fun.

Giebink’s teaching has gone through its own transformation over the past few years. “I think you evolve as you teach” said Giebink.  At the beginning of her teaching career, she admitted that she was too afraid, and due to that fear, would come to class, lecture and then leave. She felt that she was doing her students a great disservice and reached out to other instructors to learn how to better conduct her teaching. Other faculty such as Meredith Defelice, Ola Sodeinde, Steve Keating and Wendy Hanna-Rose helped guide her to become the instructor she is today.

Giebink’s BMB 442 lab class is the best example of her teaching transformation.  The class is no longer “come in and hear a lecture” instead it is “come in and we are going to work through a series of problems together.” Working alongside her students, Giebink guides her students to conduct data analysis and encourages them to have that back-and-forth discussion that always leads to learning.

Along with other instructors, Giebink is often up against a predetermined perception on teaching and learning. “Sometimes the students don’t like it if they are not getting a straight lecture because they don’t feel like they are learning as much if they are doing an activity. It’s been more than 40 years of classes being taught strictly by lecture. It’s not until later that the students realize what, and how much, they have learned by working together to solve problems.”

When asked what she loves most about teaching, Giebink shared a couple of different thoughts: “When the students finally work through a hard problem and realize the steps it took.” Or “When the students get excited to see what’s coming next and what they are going to do in the next class.” In addition, Giebink remarked that “watching a student’s interest’s transition from non-interested to a feeling that wow that was cool” is something that always brings a smile to her face.

When she is not teaching, Giebink is a mother of 2 small children and wife to husband Chris Giebink, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering.  She has a love for hockey, and played in the recreation leagues at the University of Michigan until the completion of her graduate work.  Someday, she hopes to get back into playing hockey in the recreation leagues at Penn State.

Congratulations on your award, and thank you Dr. Giebink for your dedication to your students and to the university at large!