My thoughts on teaching.J Vet Med Educ. 2009 Fall; 36(3):256-9.JV
The Pfizer Distinguished Teacher Award, presented annually to a faculty member at each college or school of veterinary medicine in the United States, is the most prestigious teaching award in veterinary medicine. Originally this award was known as the Norden Award, named in honor of Carl J. Norden, founder of Norden Laboratories, but since 1963 it has been sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health. Awardees are selected by their individual colleges and schools based on the following criteria: teaching excellence in lectures, laboratories, and/or clinical settings; support of student learning and development outside of traditional venues, such as by counseling, advising of specialty clubs, and so on (extracurricular activities); and character and leadership. Students, peers, and administrators provide input into the various criteria. Each of the 28 colleges or schools of veterinary medicine in the United States is invited to submit the dossier of their awardee to a national selection committee sponsored by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). It gives me great pleasure to note that the committee has awarded the 2008 Pfizer Teaching Award to Dr. Bonnie Smith, Associate Professor of Anatomy, Embryology, and Physiology at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) at Virginia Tech. Dr. Smith began her faculty service at VMRCVM in 1991, and previous to that spent four years on the faculty at North Carolina State University. Her ability to make a positive impact in the lives of students and their learning has become legendary over the years. Likewise, as a member of the Curriculum Board (Committee) and serving on various course design teams, Dr. Smith has been a steadying force in guiding the curriculum through various iterations. Helping students and faculty keep a sense of balance throughout these changes has been one of her major contributions. As a testament to her long-term teaching excellence, Dr. Bonnie Smith has received at least 22 different awards and citations for teaching excellence, two of which came very early in her career while she was at North Carolina State University. Most notable among these many awards is the fact that she is now a three-time recipient of the Pfizer Teaching Award. Dr. Smith has also been nominated by Student AVMA for a Teaching Excellence Award in Basic Sciences and has received an Honorable Mention, Teacher of the Year Award from the AVMA. Additionally, she has received an Alumni Teaching Award and a University Award for Teaching Excellence, and she has been elected to the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence. Each of these three awards recognizes the best educators on Virginia Tech's faculty. Students have been very articulate in their praise of Dr. Smith's teaching. The comments received include "She has developed a unique teaching style that infuses traditional lectures with her unrelenting energy while never sacrificing content or complexity" and "She approaches the material from many angles, with clear verbalization of concepts, creatively utilizing stories and metaphors for clarification." Finally, a very fitting comment that illustrates her impact on her students: "Outside the classroom, Dr. Smith also influences many of us by serving as a strong female role model. In the face of life's hardships, she perseveres with an unshakably positive spirit. She encourages us to excel in all we do within the walls of our school and in our own lives." Peers have likewise been most complimentary of Dr. Smith's abilities as an educator. Examples from her nomination packet include the following: "Dr. Smith is truly a Master Teacher of the college. She has consistently demonstrated exemplary qualities of teaching, dedication and work ethic. She has received every teaching award the College has to offer and is consistently recognized by students, peers and the University" and "She epitomizes the qualities we have come to associate with teaching excellence. First and foremost is her dedication and commitment to student learning. Second, Dr. Smith's rapport with her students is outstanding because she invests the time necessary to gain their trust so she knows exactly what they are struggling with in her course. Third, she has the uncommon ability and desire to reach into students' minds and hearts to tailor instruction to meet individual learning styles and needs. Indeed, Dr. Smith is extremely gifted in being able to take complex details and concepts, and simplify, organize and present them in a very clear, understandable fashion." Other peer comments include: "Dr. Smith's animated and enthusiastic style was very effective and well-received"; "She is commended for her very good use of metaphors, examples and humor"; and "We all agree that attending Dr. Smith's lectures was beneficial to us as well as to the students! Keep up the fine work." In summary, Dr. Smith is to be sincerely congratulated on receiving this prestigious award. It is well deserved, based on her long history of teaching excellence and on the positive impact she has had in the lives of her students. -J. Blair Meldrum, Professor of Toxicology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech, and Chair, VMRCVM Pfizer Teaching Award Selection Committee.