April 19, 2014

Distinguished Faculty Teaching II Award: Professor Bob Winning

by Alyssa Eckles, Published April 13, 2010

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Bob Winning in class

Bob Winning, an EMU biology professor, holds up an African clawed frog for some of his lab students to observe.Winning was recently named the winner of the Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Award winner in the Teaching II category. He finds his teaching complements his research and vice versa.

Three hundred undergraduates fidgeted in their seats, all eyes on a young graduate student at the front of the class. Just the thought of speaking in front of a crowd makes some people sweat, let alone instructing a hall full of biology students. This was Bob Winning's first experience before a class, and it was the moment he realized his passion for teaching

With the professor away at a conference, Winning, a developmental biology graduate student at the time, was asked to step in and lead the class on embryonic biology. Though nervous, the self-admitted introvert accepted. Winning didn't expect he would enjoy the experience so much.

"I've always been kind of a closet performer. By nature, I'm not an outgoing person, but I love getting up and lecturing in front of a class," Winning said.

From that first lecture at the University of Calgary to today's basic biology courses and graduate level developmental biology at Eastern Michigan University, Winning has shown his passion for teaching. It is his commitment to classroom excellence and innovative teaching style that earned Winning the 2010 Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching II.

"It's very exciting for me," Winning said.

The Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Award is the highest honor a faculty member can receive at EMU. Four to six faculty members are honored each year for teaching, research and other categories. The Teaching II award is given to a faculty member with more than five years of teaching at EMU. Each recipient receives a plaque and a $3,500 honorarium.  

After graduate school, there weren't many opportunities for Winning to lecture. He received his doctorate from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and took part in a postdoctoral fellowship in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md. Winning worked with his favorite subject, developmental biology. He researched cell surface proteins, cloned from the neural cranial crest of African clawed frogs' embryos.

In 1995, Winning returned to teaching by accepting an EMU assistant professor position in the biology department.

"I hadn't really managed or developed a class of my own," Winning said. "I'd never had to create a syllabus or plan lectures over the course of a semester."

Winning's colleagues in the biology department lent him a hand in his beginning months and, ever since, Winning has been a leader within the department. He was the first in the department to utilize podcasts for his lectures, even synchronizing them with slides. He was the first EMU biologist to create and implement an online science course. The National Science Teachers Association has recognized Winning twice for his online class.

The content Winning teaches can be complicated or complex, so he often finds himself wondering how a student might want to learn biology. Traditional lectures on developmental genetics are often about fruit flies and genes. Winning throws that out the window. Instead, he focuses on how cells "know" what to become.

"(During the lecture) the students would raise their hands and say, 'Isn't that a problem in the development?'" Winning said.

His students were already a few steps ahead and catching possible problems, which allows Winning to have an active discussion in class on how cells develop.

Winning is known for his high standards for students. He relished the compliment paid by a former graduate student, who said, "Tough, but very fair."

Winning likes to think he's showing students how far they can reach, what their limits really are. If students aren't given high expectations, according to Winning, they're never going to reach their potential.

"When students come to office hours, I'm explaining something one-on-one and I see the light bulb go off. That, for me, is the biggest rush with teaching."

Outside the classroom, Winning doesn't stop teaching. He continues his research with receptor proteins, working to understand the biochemical events of cell development. Under his advising, two graduate and three undergraduate students work alongside him, assisting in the laboratory.

"I really enjoy the one-on-one interaction of the lab. It's a way to really teach science," Winning said.

From podcasts to frog embryos, Winning is an engaging teacher and a great example of the talent the Distinguished Faculty Awards honors.

"I'm not someone who seeks awards. But I came to Eastern because I love to teach, and this award is validation of my work," Winning said. 

Alyssa Eckles

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