Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award 2008-2009
Judith D. Ochrietor, Assistant Professor of Biology, was awarded a 2009 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award by the UNF Faculty Association. She was also named a College of Arts and Sciences finalist for the award in 2008. Dr. Ochrietor sees her role as an educator as a guide for students along their educational journeys and to challenge them to learn about themselves and the field of biology. Dr. Ochrietor says “I truly enjoy working with students in the classroom and in my research laboratory, as it allows me to convey my appreciation of biological processes to them – specifically molecular biology processes.”
Dr. Ochrietor has taught a diverse array of courses at UNF, which has allowed her to interact with a variety of students. She has taught non-biology majors in the general education Principles of Biology and Current Applications courses, young biology majors in the General Biology I and Building a Brain honors courses, and mature biology majors in the Molecular and Cell Biology, Cell and Molecular Neuroscience, and Immunology courses. She approaches all of these lecture courses in a similar manner, in that she tries to get students enthusiastic about science by relating the facts to modern, real-life applications. She often uses anecdotes related to her research or personal experiences and also discussion of primary literature (for upper-level courses) in her courses to engage students. She believes that a personalized touch makes biology less scary for the non-majors and hopefully excites the biology majors about their fascinating field of study.
Dr. Ochrietor wants her students to enjoy their educational journey, but also expects them to work to their fullest potential at all times. She strives to be very clear in her expectations for her students and constantly challenges them to think critically about biology. “I want my students to learn and understand the material, rather than just memorize it for the exam and then forget it the next day. My exams are fair but require that the students understand the concepts to earn a high grade,” she says. In an effort to help her students prepare for exams, she post study guides for each exam in Blackboard. These review questions are set up much like questions found at the end of textbook chapters. Dr. Ochrietor feels that this practice helps students center their attention on the appropriate material and gives them an opportunity to become familiar with the wording styles she uses on exams. Assessment of pre- and post-lecture tests indicates that this teaching style is effective and that students are meeting the learning objectives established.
Not only does Dr. Ochrietor work with students in the classroom setting, but in her molecular biology and biochemistry research laboratory as well. Dr. Ochrietor studies interactions between neurons and glial cells, specifically at the level of protein-protein interactions related to neuronal metabolism. To date, she has mentored fifteen undergraduate students in research training at UNF. These students not only experienced transformational learning in the laboratory, but have also presented their research data both on campus and at scientific conferences. For the past three years, her undergraduate research students have presented their data in poster and oral presentation formats at the Southeast Nerve Net meeting, a regional conference of neuroscientists. This past March, Dr. Ochrietor and her students had an opportunity to host the annual meeting of the Southeast Nerve Net at UNF. She is very proud to report that her students’ presentations were well received and even praised by the other scientists in attendance.