Biomedical engineering doctoral candidate receives Heberlein Teaching Award
The Wayne State University Graduate School recently awarded Tonya Whitehead, Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, the prestigious Garrett T. Heberlein Excellence in Teaching Award for graduate students. The award gives the university an opportunity to recognize and encourage excellence in teaching among graduate students and acknowledges the important role they play in carrying out the university’s teaching mission. It is the only universitywide teaching award for graduate students.
Whitehead has been teaching BE 1500 – Introduction to Programming and Computation for Engineers since 2015. Jeff Potoff, associate dean for academic and student affairs in the College of Engineering — and the one who hired Whitehead two years ago — enthusiastically recommended her for this award.
“Tonya Whitehead is an outstanding educator, committed to student success and continuous improvement,” said Potoff, who noted that she implements many of what are considered best practices in STEM education, including active learning and flipped classrooms.
Whitehead served as a graduate student assistant in the Office for Teaching and Learning, frequently participating in various OTL workshops and events, including the voluntary Mid-Semester Assessment Program. She is also involved in the STEM Pedagogy Journal Club and the FutureSWE event, which promotes female participation in STEM fields.
“I believe that teaching undergraduate students is one of the most rewarding challenges that one can undertake,” said Whitehead. “My goal is to give students the tools to solve problems in class and in their future careers while preparing them to continue learning for a lifetime.”
Whitehead’s teaching philosophy is rooted in embracing diversity, keeping students engaged in the classroom and providing them with clear expectations. She has integrated peer mentoring into the BE 1500 course, and has worked to make the course a more inclusive and interactive learning experience, incorporating many elements based on student feedback.
“Each semester I strive to improve my courses by continuing to expand my knowledge of pedagogy, carefully reviewing suggestions made by students and doing my own reflection on what is going well in the course and what could work better,” said Whitehead.
Potoff believes Whitehead’s commitment to improving her teaching is what sets her apart from other educators, and noted that her Student Evaluation of Teaching scores have risen to well above the average of the course’s sections.
Whitehead earned her B.S. in computer engineering and M.S. in manufacturing and engineering management from Michigan State University. She also holds an M.S. in biomedical engineering from Wayne State and expects to complete her doctoral program this year.