Brown catches 2022 Regions TEACH Prize
Published on Monday, May 16, 2022
By: Karen Bascom
Students come out of Dr. David Brown’s biochemistry lectures at University of Mississippi Medical Center with a better understanding of the 20 human amino acids. They might be able to identify just as many species of fish, thanks to his practice of inserting slide breaks to keep the lecture fresh.
And thanks to the nomination of students, Brown, a professor of cell and molecular biology, received the educator’s catch of the year: the 2022 Regions TEACH Prize.
Since 2013, the Regions TEACH, short for Toward Educational Advancement in Care and Health, Prize, has recognized one faculty member with a $10,000 award and the knowledge that students had a say in selecting the person deemed the year’s most outstanding educator at UMMC.
The Medical Center and Regions Bank presented the TEACH Prize in conjunction with the annual induction ceremony for the Nelson Order, which recognized 20 of UMMC’s best teachers representing all seven health professional schools. This year’s ceremony occurred Monday, May 9 in the Sanderson Tower Community Room.
Brown, nominated by the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, said he is “thrilled and honored” to be in the company of previous recipients.
His selection for the TEACH Prize marks the third time in the last five years that the SGSHS’s nominee has received the honor.
“Dr. Brown is strongly committed to the education mission of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences,” Dr. Joey Granger, dean of the SGSHS. “He has been an effective leader for our school’s education committees and a mentor to both students and faculty.”
Brown is the course director for Graduate and Medical Biochemistry and the upper-level graduate course Molecular Tools. He also lectures in other master’s and PhD-level biochemistry courses.
In his application portfolio, Brown notes that while his education laid the groundwork for his biochemistry knowledge, it’s his role as professor that truly shapes it.
“I do not think I truly understood the discipline until I began teaching,” wrote Brown, a member of UMMC’s faculty since 1991.
“To encourage active learning, the slides in my presentations are, by design, minimalist. They do not contain all the information needed to understand the principle being addressed,” he wrote. “The intent is that the students will supplement the slides with information verbally presented during the presentation.”
His method also requires students to consult the textbook independently of class, though he notes that the current pace of technological advance presents a challenge: “Biochemistry changes so quickly that by the time a new textbook is printed, it’s almost obsolete,” he said.
Brown started his biochemistry PhD at UMMC in 1982 during another era of seismic shift in the field.
“This was when molecular biology was really starting, especially with advances in sequencing and cloning,” he said.
He worked with professor emeritus Dr. Donald Sittman, then a new faculty member.
“[Sittman] was a great mentor in terms of teaching me to be rigorous and ethical in my work, and was the biggest influence on my teaching philosophy,” Brown said.
One lesson he pulled from Sittman: don’t take yourself too seriously.
After all, “Professors are people too,” he said.
“I grew up on the Florida coast and have always had a passion for fishing,” Brown said. To break up lectures, he started inserting occasional pictures of fish he and his two sons have caught.
“Then, the students started sending me their own fish pictures, and I would put them in the lectures,” he said. Brown sometimes adds fish questions to exams to provide a mental break.
His previous students, whom Brown guesses comprise half of Jackson’s practicing physicians, have long-appreciated his talents in the classroom. First-year medical students have named biochemistry the Evers Society M1 Course of the Year nine times since 2008. The SOM also nominated Brown for the 2022 Nelson Order.
On behalf of cell and molecular biology PhD students, Alexandra Huffman wrote, “Dr. Brown is an inspiring professor who both clearly enjoys to teach and also has an unmistakable aptitude for it.”
She cited Brown’s “enthusiasm for facilitating student understanding, wide array of knowledge on molecular biology, and ability to deliver complex lessons in a digestible manner,” as reasons why SGSHS students nominated him for the TEACH Prize.
This is also evident in the Molecular Tools course, a primer on the biochemistry tackle box.
He “emphasizes the importance of knowing how and why a method works, stressing the individual components and steps of an assay rather on focusing on simply how to get data from a ready-made kit,” Huffman wrote.
Brown’s skill here comes from his decades of experience as a bench scientist. His lab studies chromatin, the mix of DNA and proteins that make up your 23 pairs of chromosomes. He’s interested in how one of those proteins, histone, is involved in building and repairing chromatin.
The Brown lab has produced six PhDs, including current postdoctoral scholars, compliance directors and faculty.
“Graduate school is just too demanding to be a means to an end. It is my responsibility to inspire students to develop a passion for the research and to take ownership in the project,” Brown said.
“He rarely gives you the right answer, instead guiding you to the answer by letting you learn how to reason through the problem,” wrote Dr. Eric George, a Brown mentee and UMMC associate professor of physiology and biophysics. “He encourages you to explore multiple solutions. Every experiment, whether a success or failure, becomes a teaching moment; helping you develop the critical thinking and reasoning skills that are so essentially necessary for a successful career in biological research.”
It also helps that after four decades at UMMC, science still firmly holds his attention.
“I look forward to coming to the lab every day,” Brown said. “I have promised myself and my family that the day I do not look forward to teaching is the day I retire. Fortunately, that day has not come.”
2022 Nelson Order Inductees
*Denotes the school’s Regions TEACH Prize Nominee
School of Dentistry
- Dr. William Boteler, associate professor of care planning and restorative sciences
- Dr. Yuefeng Lu, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences
- Dr. Amanda Morellato, assistant professor of care planning and restorative sciences
- *Dr. Cynthia Senior, assistant professor of dental hygiene
School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences
- *Dr. David Brown, professor of cell and molecular biology
School of Health Related Professions
- Dr. Kristy Cole, assistant professor of occupational therapy
- *Dr. Judy Gordy, assistant professor of health systems administration
- Dr. Asher Street, associate professor of magnetic resonance imaging
- Dr. Kimberly Willis, associate professor of physical therapy
School of Medicine
- Dr. Osman Athar, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior
- Dr. David Brown, professor of cell and molecular biology
- Dr. Austin Harrison, associate professor of pediatrics
- Dr. Sue Phillips, associate professor of pediatrics
- Dr. Ellen Robertson, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences
- *Dr. Stanley Smith, professor of pharmacology and toxicology
School of Nursing
- *Dr. Audwin Fletcher, professor of nursing
- Dr. Neeli Kirkendall, assistant professor of nursing
- Amanda McCullough, instructor of nursing
- Dr. Kandy Smith, professor of nursing
School of Pharmacy
- *Dr. Courtney Davis, clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice
John D. Bower School of Population Health
- *Dr. Yufeng Zheng, associate professor of data science