Inspirational teaching is more than a movie theme

Inspirational teaching is more than a movie theme

By Carrie Knific

Movie plotlines about inspiring teachers have been around since Sidney Poitier brought self-respect and discipline to an inner city school in “To Sir, With Love” in 1967. “Freedom Writers,” the latest film in this genre begs the question of whether these storylines are realistic.

Northeastern may not have a big-budget, a dramatic movie script or Hilary Swank, but similar relationships between students and professors have been fostered, particularly through the honors program.

During their junior and senior years, honors students have the option of participating in a faculty-supervised independent project, which can range from a paper to a multimedia presentation to a performance, according to the criteria listed on the website. Students also reqired to work closely with a professor of their choosing when undertaking such a project.

When it came time for junior biology major Elise LaFlamme to research the adverse effects of anemia on pregnant women in Bolivia for her project, she knew who to turn to for guidance – biology professor and pre-med advisor Daniel Scheirer, with whom she’s been close since freshman year.

Scheirer’s personality and teaching methods were what drew her to him, she said.

“I had him in my first semester for Bio 101 and he’s always been one of my favorite teachers,” LaFlamme said. “He brings in current topics and makes science very interesting for students.”

Though much of her research is independent, LaFlamme finds Scheirer a good source of direction.

“I went to Bolivia without him but he’s done a lot of things like editing, making contacts and being an amazing help,” she said.

As LaFlamme’s passion for science flourished, Scheirer initially convinced a hesitant LaFlamme to pursue the groundbreaking project.

“I wasn’t even thinking of doing an honors project and I didn’t think I had time for it but he told me he definitely thought I should,” she said. “I’m so glad he pushed me to do it. I’ve gotten so much out of it.”

She said her research on the topic has strengthened her passion for the field, and has helped her find a firm vision of her future.

“I can definitely say [Scheirer] has made it easier for me to I know what I want,” LaFlamme said, who is currently on co-op as a medical assistant at an obstetrics office at Boston Health Care for Women.

After traveling to Bolivia last May on a medical missions trip with Child and Family Health International, LaFlamme interviewed pregnant women to test their knowledge of anemia and took information from patients’ charts to find out whether hemoglobin levels affected the health of their babies.

With Scheirer’s help, LaFlamme said she hopes to publish her research and finish medical school to continue working with pregnant women.

“I refer to her medical trip to Bolivia when I talk about pre-med advising and to parents and prospective students,” said Scheirer, who shared a similar bond with his professor when he was a biology student at Wheaton College. “She’s a good model of what a student should be.”

Senior behavioral neuroscience major, Irene Bukh, also an honors student, got the idea for her project while working with psychology professor Martin Block. Block guided her through her research on social development and personality characteristics of infants.

Two years ago, while the two were working together in the Franklin Park Zoo, a baby gorilla was born, and Bukh said Block recognized the prime research opportunity to track its growth, she said.

Now considering a Ph.D. in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, Bukh said she is grateful to Block for guiding her career path.

“I started out as a physical therapy major then went to psychology, and dabbled in veterinary medicine,” Bukh said. “But only after working with him did I look more into the biomedical research with animals, and [changed to] a major in behavioral neuroscience because of it.”

LaFlamme also said professor Scheirer was key in helping her make decisions about her long-term goals. She said Scheirer helped her find scholarships to fund her trip and gave advice on co-ops that would be most beneficial to her career.

“Professor Scheirer has definitely been a positive influence and has really encouraged me to pursue medical school,” she said.

Besides offering encouragement and guidance, the professors said they also benefited from their relationship with their students.

“It was really rewarding just giving Irene the opportunity to follow what she was really interested in and allowing her to discover things not only with the animals but about herself,” Block said.

Professor Scheirer said he hopes his guiding hand will lead to a fruitful post-college career for LaFlamme.

“I look at myself as a support role for my students,” he said. “I want to help them achieve their aspirations and guide them to their career goals. And when they do, I find an enormous reward in seeing them succeed.”

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