Award-winning educators share their philosophy
by Vicki Hildner
Margarita Bianco: “When you are passionate about what you do … it doesn’t feel like work.”
Margarita Bianco, PhD, is the kind of teacher who receives a thank-you note from the mother of one of her students saying, “You were the first to give [us] hope and direction …. You are very special to this family.”
What makes that note even more remarkable is that it arrived 24 years after Bianco taught this child—in the first grade.
“Teaching is something I have always wanted to do,” said Bianco, “I never imagined myself doing anything else.”
Bianco, who won the 2011 Denver Campus Excellence in Teaching award, teaches a course in the School of Education and Human Development that helps special education teachers understand the challenges that their students may face moving from high school to work life or college. In another course, she examines the psychology of gifted, talented and creative children. She has particular interest in identifying and nurturing giftedness in underrepresented populations.
At CU Denver, she has also developed a project called Pathways2Teaching, which she describes as “a time-intensive labor of love for me.” The program, which has a graduation rate at or near 100 percent, encourages young students of color in Denver high schools to become teachers.
“I love interaction with students—and that could be anyone from kindergarten to graduate school,” said Bianco. “I like challenging their thinking, giving them another perspective. And I have learned so much from my students through the years.”
Bianco attributes her love of CU Denver’s urban campus to her upbringing in the city of New York. Whenever she has a free moment, she spends time on the Auraria Campus because she likes to meet students from all the schools sharing the campus.
“My work is really around bringing more students of color into the school [of Education and Human Development], so that our teacher force is more representative of the students they are teaching,” said Bianco. “You have more opportunity to do that on an urban campus than any place else.”
Bianco has taken on another role, as academic adviser for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. She calls this work another “labor of love,” but don’t misunderstand. She is not complaining—quite the contrary.
“When you are passionate about what you do and doing something where you see the fruits of your labor,” she said, “it may be time-consuming, but it doesn’t feel like work.”
Mark Earnest : “We have a creative, can-do spirit…”
Ask Mark Earnest, MD, PhD, about his interest in education and he says he is a “teacher by temperament.”
Earnest, a 2011 President’s Teaching Scholar, traces his passion for teaching to his parents. He refers to his father as an “industrial educator,” who ran training programs for Eastman Chemical Company, developing unit-level team work and functionality. His mother was a music educator who, in the last decades of her life, pioneered early childhood education programs.
“It was, perhaps, destiny that I ended up doing this stuff,” said Earnest.
The “stuff” he is talking about consists of two pioneering education programs in the CU School of Medicine. Eight years ago, Earnest was involved in the launch of LEADS (Leadership, Education, Advocacy, Development, Scholarship), which teaches students to make connections between what they see in their clinical practice and in the world around them—and then act on those connections.
The classic example Earnest offers is a colleague in Chicago, who saw multiple injuries to children at the intersection of two streets. “He asked himself ‘Why is this happening? Why do I see these same injuries again and again?’” said Earnest.
Even more important, this physician took action. He visited the intersection and discovered it was near a school. He talked with families. Within a couple years, he made sure the intersection had been rebuilt with pedestrians in mind.
Earnest acknowledges that getting things done outside a clinical setting requires very different skills for many CU School of Medicine students. “We need to teach a new generation that their goal is to change paradigms,” he said. “We all need to be thinking about the next case in order to reduce the odds there will be a next case.”
More recently, Earnest led the launch of the Interprofessional Education program in the School of Medicine to respond to the growing need for health care providers from different disciplines to work together in teams.
He uses a football metaphor to describe the current system. “It would be as if you had a school for quarterbacks, a school for linebackers, a school for running backs and an unstated philosophy that the game is so complicated, there is no point in students from different schools spending time together,” he said.
“And then you turn everyone loose on game day and hope they can figure out how to function as a team.”
The Interprofessional Education program addresses what Earnest calls “the elephant in the room.”
“We are all trained to play our own positions,” he said, “but the consequences of not playing as a team could be enormous.”
If there is any place where a new approach will be welcomed, Earnest believes, it is the University of Colorado, where he praises the “openness to innovation” and the “willingness to examine what we do in a creative way.”
“A lot of institutions of higher learning have lots and lots of sacred cows,” said Earnest. “We have some, but we also have a creative, can-do spirit at the School of Medicine that’s wonderful.”
Steve Medema: “ … I love talking about big ideas.”
When Steve Medema, PhD, finished his graduate work at Michigan State University, he headed for the state where he had always wanted to live: Colorado.
“I had been told it wasn’t possible to achieve tenure and ski weekly,” said Medema. “Well, I got tenure two years early, and I skied pretty much every week.”
Medema’s graduate research had focused on computer simulation models for tax policy, but he came to CU Denver to teach.
“I thought if I were going to make a mark, I would do it as a teacher, not as a researcher,” he said.
His interest in teaching originated during his own undergraduate years at Calvin College, where he enjoyed a traditional liberal arts education in a small school, with professors he describes as “amazing teachers.”
“They turned me on to the idea of teaching,” he said.
At CU Denver, Medema discovered that he, too, loved to teach “how the world works” with what he calls the “cool theoretical models of economics.” He particularly enjoys challenging his students’ perception of their world by studying “things that go against intuition.”
“The easy answer is not always the full answer,” he pointed out.
Through the years, his introductory course in Microeconomics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has evolved. It doesn’t just explain parts of the economy but is a generalized social science course. “I like teaching about how markets work,” he said. “There is a lot that people don’t understand about markets and about how a wide range of social phenomena can be understood, at least in part, as the result of market processes at work.”
His passion for teaching earned him distinction as a President’s Teaching Scholar. It has also led Medema to his current position as director of the University Honors and Leadership program, where he is “trying to recreate my own education environment at Calvin College in a large university.”
In this program, students can enjoy the advantages of a small liberal arts college along with the opportunities provided by a large research institution. “This is an amazing opportunity for students that would be impossible to find except at the very best liberal arts colleges,” said Medema.
Medema’s interest in teaching has not slowed his research. He is acknowledged to be one of the world’s leading scholars in his field, the study of the history of economics. For 10 years, he edited the Journal of the History of Economic Thought.
In recent months, Medema has been out of the classroom doing research for his next book. He admits to missing his time with students. “I’m not a big fan of grading, but I love talking about big ideas.”
Robert Feinstein: “Education about delivering patient care has been my entire career.”
Ask Robert Feinstein, MD, about his career as a medical educator, and he will tell you that his passions for the past 30 years have been teaching the next generations of diverse mental health students and collaborating with colleagues. He knows that the teaching he does reverberates through clinicians to patient care, an effect he calls the “impact amplifier.”
“If I can annually help train and teach 40 psychiatric residents, 15 medical students, three social workers, two nurse practitioner students, some psychologists and primary care residents, and 15 psychiatric attendings, as I have for the past five years,” said Feinstein, “then I am able to influence the care of approximately 55,000 patient care visits.”
When Feinstein says, “education about delivering patient care has been my entire career,” he is not exaggerating.
He finished his formal psychiatric training when he was 42 years old, with special expertise in the psychotherapies, evidence-based medicine (EBM) teaching and use of technologies in medical education and for delivering outpatient psychiatric patient care. He continues to treat patients and teaches six forms of psychotherapy—family and couples, psychoanalysis, gestalt, crisis-intervention, motivational interviewing and group therapy.
He is also a self-described “techno-geek,” who has brought direct patient observation and live resident supervision using iPads, while developing and managing the psychiatric electronic medical records for his department. He has developed many innovations, which integrate psychiatric EBM with daily patient care.
Feinstein came to the CU School of Medicine in 2005 to help educate the next generation of mental health care professionals. “The training programs in our department were always excellent. I was recruited as a vice-chairman to enhance psychotherapy and evidence-based curricula and training in the outpatient setting,” said Feinstein.
He broadened his educational focus to include medical student education from 2007 to 2010, during his tenure as senior associate dean of education. Since 2010, he has returned full time to psychiatry.
He has recently developed a 4-year psychotherapy scholar track designed to “keep psychotherapy alive and well and as a core identity for future psychiatrists in a health care environment, which has moved too far toward managed care, with increasing over-reliance on pharmaceutical treatments for mental health diagnoses and problems.”
Feinstein has been teacher of the year five times, in five different educational settings. He has developed a psychiatric EBM curriculum with national recognition. He is one of many founding members of The Academy of Medical Educators (AME) at the medical school and a recipient of a 2010 AME award for “Excellence in Mentoring and Advising.” He has given more than 1,000 lectures to students and colleagues presented regularly at local, regional and national meetings.
In 2011, he was honored as one of the first two MDs from the Anschutz Medical Campus to be named a University of Colorado President’s Teaching Scholar.
Published: October 1, 2012