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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Susan Koegel named TCU Senate's Professor of the Year

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate has selected Susan Koegel, a senior lecturer in the Department of Biology, to receive this year's Professor of the Year Award.

“It’s a huge honor," Koegel said. "From what I understand it’s selected by students, so that’s kind of the biggest affirmation one can get. What I do is for the students, so to get feedback from them that they’re happy and enjoying it is important to me.”

According to Bryson Wong, a sophomore senator who co-chairs the TCU Senate’s Education Committee, an email was sent out to the student body earlier in the year to collect nominations for the Professor of the Year award. Approximately 60 nominations were received, he said.

Rati Srinivasan, a first-year senator on the Education Committee, explained that the committee reviewed these nominations and selected three finalists, taking into consideration the number of nominations each professor received, past years’ winners and the comments made by students about the quality of each professor.

Senators then met with each of the three finalists, Srinivasan said, adding that this was an additional effort made by this year’s committee to reduce bias in the selection process. Finally, the committee came back as a group to discuss what they had learned and vote on who should receive the award, she said.

“It was a hard decision,” Wong said, adding that all of the finalists were “exceptionally qualified” and that the vote eventually “came down to a personal decision.”

“All three … were phenomenal,” Srinivasan added. “Their students said incredible things about them. They are very inspirational professors … [and] have such an impact on the lives of their students that it’s hard not to want all three of them to win it.”

Wong noted that the three finalists -- Koegel, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science Chris Gregg and Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics Kye Taylor -- all taught large introductory classes on challenging topics.

This academic year, Koegel taught Cells and Organisms (BIO 13) in the fall and Cell Biology (BIO 46) in the spring.

Koegel explained that the two courses build on each other and on foundations of biology, and are important courses for students coming from a variety of different perspectives. BIO 13 is an introductory course required for the biology major as well as all pre-health tracks, while BIO 46 has no prerequisites other than BIO 13 and attracts students across all years and majors, she explained.

“I feel like everyone can learn everything, but they are coming to it from different points,” she said.

Koegel emphasizes collaborative learning in her classes in order to enhance communication among students coming from different backgrounds. She said she also aims to focus on problem-solving skills, which are useful not only for students’ future biology and science courses, but for courses in any discipline. Koegel explained that by giving students problems to solve in the first lesson, she develops the expectation among students that they should be brainstorming and coming up with solutions together.

“I enjoy working with students at the beginning of their scientific careers,” she added.

Srinivasan explained that Koegel consolidated the BIO 13 course, which used to have multiple professors teaching each section, and redesigned the syllabus so that she would be the sole professor and cover all the material.

“Having one professor … makes a class entirely different, and I know that … it helped a lot of students,” Srinivasan said. “You have one contact person to go to [and] you have one professor whose teaching style you’ll get used to.”

Although Koegel believes that large classes are effective for reaching a wider audience, she said that there are trade-offs, such as a greater difficulty in establishing individual connections with students. To facilitate this, she has her students fill out cards with facts about themselves, which she uses to learn their names.

Koegel added that the classroom is just one of the places where students learn, and it is not necessarily the environment in which everyone learns best. She holds extensive office hours and tries to have one-on-one conversations with her students.

“My goal is to provide everyone with a place and opportunity to learn [and] grow,” she said, adding that it is satisfying to see students change over the semester or over their four years here.

As a senior lecturer, Koegel does not run a research lab at Tufts, so her focus is on teaching. However, she is fascinated with cancer biology, an interest that shows through in her teaching.

“The only way to study biological systems is to study them when they’re broken,” she said, adding that one can learn much more from studying diseased systems than from ones that are functioning normally.

Koegel also enjoys learning, noting that in the scientific world, there are always new discoveries and updates to previous research.

Koegel's teaching has inspired many students to focus their academic careers in the field of biology, according to Srinivasan.

“[Koegel] is a professor that made people want to be biology majors,” Srinivasan said. “She’s very passionate about teaching [and] absolutely loves biology.”

This passion is apparent to Clara Williamson, a first-year who was in both Koegel’s BIO 13 and BIO 46 classes.

“[Koegel] is a fantastic, engaging lecturer who always takes the time to explain thoroughly … [answers to] questions people have. She is also an extremely fair grader,” Williamson told the Daily in an email. “Besides that, [she] truly cares about every single one of her students … I went to her first office hours and she still remembers it!”

Koegel said she was thankful to those who nominated her for the award, and looks forward to continuing to teach students.

“I love what I do, and hope that it shows,” Koegel said.