Great expectations

Biology professor Rekha Patel receives Mungo Graduate Teaching Award

Rekha Patel was working on her master’s degree in India when one of her professors changed the way she thought about biology, imparting a new mindset that shaped the rest of her graduate work and, ultimately, her own academic career in the U.S.

“I will always be grateful, and I would like to spend my career being the same great teacher to my students,” says Patel, a biology professor at the University of South Carolina since 1998 and this year’s recipient of the Michael J. Mungo Graduate Teaching Award. Patel already has a pedigree in teaching excellence: She has also won the Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Mortar Board Award for Excellence in Teaching and the MIchael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year Award, the university’s highest award for faculty.

“Teachers always have a lasting impact on a student’s mind, and the good teachers are remembered with great respect and are are held in the highest regard in our minds,” she says.

Teaching at the graduate level extends beyond excellence in classroom pedagogy for Patel. She takes an active role in advising graduate students and has formally served on more than 60 graduate advisory committees for students, including 30 biology students and 34 students from other colleges and schools at the university.

“As a teacher, the most important goal for me is to be able to reach every student in the class and make sure that they learn the required material to develop critical thinking skills,” Patel says. “It seems that the same percentage of my classroom meets my expectations no matter how low or high I set the bar. I therefore design my exams such that at least a few questions will spark new ideas and application of the knowledge they learned during lectures.”

Patel has high expectations of herself as a professor and high hopes for her students.

“As a teacher, my job is to endow them with critical learning skills and important analytical tools. As students, it is up to them to be able to use them effectively for the entire course of their scientific careers that begin in a graduate school.”

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