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November 2009 Issue

David Askew, PhD (middle), associate professor and director of the pathology graduate program, won the Teacher of the Year Award in pathology for providing “exceptional” support to students. Here Askew works with students Vivian Xiong (left) and Maggie Powers.
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Students Influence Improvements in Pathology

By Amanda Harper
Published November 2009

Education is often thought of as a one-way exchange, where students learn from their instructors. That philosophy is debunked in UC’s department of pathology, where the graduate training program underwent significant changes in 2008 as a direct result of the students “educating” leadership about their needs.

The result, says doctoral candidate Christina Martin, is a much more cohesive and effectively run program that better enables students to succeed. She attributes much of that success to David Askew, PhD, an associate professor and director of the pathology graduate program.

Askew says when he assumed directorship of the pathology graduate program in 2008, his first goal was to gather student feedback.

“Students have a lot of good ideas, so it makes my job as graduate program director a lot easier when I rely on them for direction on where we should be heading,” he explains. “It doesn’t mean every idea will realistically align with the department’s goals and capabilities—but it is a great starting point for conversation about programmatic improvement.”

To begin the process, Askew met with small groups of pathology graduate students to gather honest feedback about the program. The department implemented nearly all of the changes the students suggested, including: appointment of a permanent faculty member to supervise and revise the format of the student journal club, increasing student stipends, starting a career seminar series, creating a new qualifying exam prep course that involves mock study sections from senior students, increasing the level of clinical competency in the graduate program and addressing the needs of students working on the UC Reading Campus.

This fall, Askew plans to meet with the students again to gauge what has worked and what hasn’t to refine the changes so that the program continues to meet student needs for success. 

“I was immensely impressed that Dr. Askew wanted to hear our opinions—as were many other students—because it showed that the department was willing to listen to our needs and address them,” says Martin, who expects to graduate with her doctorate in July 2010.

This summer, the students almost unanimously selected Askew for the Teacher of the Year Award in pathology. The award is intended to recognize faculty who provide exceptional support to students through mentorship and leadership.

“Beyond the changes to our graduate studies, Dr. Askew is a huge advocate and mentor for the students,” adds Stephanie Yoder, the fourth-year doctoral student who nominated Askew for the student-driven award. “He is extremely active in the program, attending student presentations and generally operating under an open door policy where you can always access him for help.”

Adds Martin: “I work in a completely different aspect of pathology than him, but he is always willing to give an outside opinion on my papers and research. It’s nice to have a resource that is accessible and willing to help.” 

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