Western Oregon University Biology Professor Kristin Latham-Scott hopes she engages her students with mind-expanding topics while also providing them the skills to tackle the challenges.
Her dedication, creativity and enthusiasm to create student-centered learning spaces has earned Latham-Scott this year’s Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“I hope my students take with them the knowledge that they can work through tough questions and generate solutions, and they will have those problem-solving skills for life,” Latham-Scott said.
Thrilled and honored to receive the award, Latham-Scott credits her consistently improving teaching skills to being motivated by a wonderful group of colleagues and friends who are also dedicated to exceptional teaching and education.
“I am proud of the strong educator I have worked to become. I am proud that my students enjoy my courses while tackling complex and rigorous material,” she said. “I am proud of my students who come into my courses excited but nervous and apprehensive and leave feeling that they have developed skills and worked through challenging concepts to build their confidence.”
WOU Biology Professors Erin Baumgartner and Michael Baltzley said Latham-Scott is continuously on the leading-edge of teaching innovation. Both professors said Latham-Scott creates a welcoming classroom where students feel comfortable to explore new ideas.
“She greets their suggestions and thoughts with genuine enthusiasm. When students suggest implausible or impractical experiments, Kristin guides them, so they are an active part of the analysis of their ideas and discover the flaws in their thinking on their own,” Baltzley said. “She engages and inspires a roomful of students to think deeply about the course material and has a classroom presence that encourages students to participate freely.”
Lex Anderson ’20 has known Latham-Scott for eight years as an undergraduate and graduate student. She thinks what makes Latham-Scott exceptional is her ability to maintain a balance of humility and compassion and still demonstrate her extensive scientific expertise in a way that invites students to become experts themselves.
“She possesses a rare quality that is evident in her ability to simultaneously generate a welcoming classroom culture and deliver rigorous course content,” Anderson said.
Whether it is cultivating a love of academic exploration, inspiring students to learn outside the classroom, encouraging students to ask questions, or creating a safe space to practice problem-solving skills, Latham-Scott reflects in her classroom what she learned from several outstanding teachers when she was a student. She credits her parents for teaching her to follow her passion and that working hard for something she believed in is worth the time and effort.
The Drosophila melanogaster or “mighty fruit fly” is both Latham-Scott’s research organism and a teaching tool to help students understand basic biological concepts. In her Introductory Genetics course in the fall, she invites students to earn extra credit by coming to class in a genetics-related Halloween costume and explaining how it is genetics related. She dresses up, too, and was a fruit fly her first year at WOU.
“Working with students brings me deep satisfaction and joy”, she said. “I want to make a difference in the lives of my students, whether that is to support them, inspire them or show them the fun and amazement that can be found in science.”