Graduate Teaching Award: Samuel Fey

On July 11, 2013 by Grad Forum

fey_thumbnailSamuel Fey, a PhD candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Department, was selected as one of this year’s recipients of the Graduate Student Teaching Award.

Fey works in Dr. Karthryn Cottingham’s lab. He received his BA in biology from Hamilton College and came to Dartmouth following a two-year research fellowship at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Fey’s academic background is in community ecology. His thesis research focuses on how temperature affects food web interactions. Specifically, he looks at poikilothermic organisms, organisms whose body temperatures approximate environmental temperature (for example snakes, lizards, and even bacteria). These represent the vast majority of life on Earth. For these organisms the environmental temperature affects many important aspects of their biology such as rates of photosynthesis in plants, rates of consuming prey for predators, and development rates. As such, Fey is interested in how changes in environmental temperatures can affect the interaction between organisms, such as predation and competition, and how such altered interactions will affect entire biological communities.

Fey’s research has two main focuses. The first is how temperature changes the spread of non-native species. His second focus is on how temperature can alter the quality and quantity of ecological subsidies (nutrients and energy that move from one ecological system to another).

Aside from research, Fey has been dedicated to teaching undergraduates. Fey has taken many opportunities to be involved with teaching at Dartmouth, working as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and guest lecturer for classes ranging from the introductory to advanced. These classes have typically been small, allowing for a close relationship with professors and students.

For Fey, Dartmouth brought a very different teaching experience compared to other graduate schools, an experience that goes beyond grading stacks of papers. “Dartmouth provides myriad opportunities for graduate students to develop as educators, that are not available in other grad programs,” says Fey “you get to work one on one with students both inside and outside of the classroom and lab.” For Fey, this was an invaluable experience. Additionally, Fey cites his academic advisor, Kathy Cottingham, as being an invaluable mentor for developing as an educator.

One teaching highlight was when Fey was a TA for the biology Foreign Studies Program that travels to Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands. This hands-on course is a non-stop scientific experience. It teaches undergraduates a crucial aspect of scientific exploration, working in many different natural environments. For Fey, working as a TA for this course was the equivalent of taking a full class on how to be an effective educator. In particular, Fey benefited from learning from Professors Matthew Ayres and Celia Chen, who taught the biology FSP, and spent a tremendous amount of time talking with Fey about their own teaching approaches.

Describing his own philosophy Fey said “I believe that science is most effectively taught as an active process that emphasizes the contribution of individual scientists.” He continued “Science is highly dynamic, and thus one of the biggest pitfalls in teaching biology is to present the current state of knowledge as static and complete—inaccurately creating the impression that all exciting discoveries have already been made and all scientific debates have been settled.”

Fey believes that a further value of this class is that it avoids the trap of making students believe that all good science has already been “done.” The class shows undergraduate students that science is not static. Science is non-stop, it is a process, it goes on outside of the lab, and there is so much more to be done.

Fey found that this class gave him immense experience and developed the way in which he would like to be an educator. His goal post graduation is to become a professor and continue to work with enthusiastic students.

Of course teaching is a dialogic process, and Fey is the first to acknowledge that there is particular joy of working with Dartmouth students, who are incredibly talented and enthusiastic learners.

The Graduate Studies Office would like to commend Fey for his excellent work in teaching. We would also like to congratulate him and his wife Andrea on the recent birth of their first child, Sylvie Maxfield Fey.

by Dan Durcan

Photo courtesy of M. P. Ayres

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