Rachel D.Fink

Citation for 2001 Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

Rachel is famous for her ability to communicate by analogy. Some of her students also have mastered that art. To capture what makes her such an effective lecturer one wrote of her "pure interest in the subject that permeates the auditorium as she teaches," while another spoke of "her pure pleasure of teaching (and of biology) . . . which like a communicable disease is very catching." They have it right. Rachel is committed to teaching because she loves science and wants all her students to be engaged not only by it, but also by the way scientists think and how they acquire knowledge. She has argued that "the time with our students in laboratories teaching them how to answer scientific questions . . . is the core of what we do."

Because she understands that individuals learn in different ways she brings a multitude of techniques to her classes. In addition to colorful analogies, there are physical enactments and time-lapse videos she has made. She is perhaps best known, however, for her use of a low-tech tool that has a distinguished lineage in the teaching of biology: beautiful diagrams in colored chalk. Her creative, multifaceted, but also highly ordered teaching style makes Rachel unusually successful in meeting the special challenges of very large classes. In Biological Sciences 200, with well over 100 students, she is praised for her presentations which one student characterized as "neat, organized, efficient, clean and easy to follow," and for her ability to elicit and answer questions.

Despite her great successes, Rachel regularly takes the risks of trying out something new. Last year she offered Biological Science 305 as a speaking-intensive course with students making oral presentations and taking oral exams. Many were anxious, but all applauded the results. She further stretched and excited these students by having them design their own laboratory experiments. With Rachel there to encourage and guide, they found themselves being scientists and they celebrated that.

Her teaching, however, extends way beyond her own classes. She has published two compilations of research videos for the use of other teachers, and her students' films from time-lapse video microscopy are being made available to younger viewers. The developmental biology class's home page even has questions for the community. One shows pictures of her favorites: sea urchins. You only get partial credit, however, if you just identify these creatures. Which is male and which, female and what is each up to?

Most importantly, Rachel's teaching and passion for science extends far, and will continue to have diverse and unpredictable consequences, because her students carry it with them. As one wrote: "She helps to bring science 'out of the lab and into your life' so that students do not leave their scientific knowledge at the classroom door, but keep it with them as lenses through which they see certain issues and phenomena in the 'real' world."