You have one. Your parents have one. Your best friend has one: a favorite teacher. Someone who left an indelible mark on you—not necessarily because they shared the most facts with you, but because of how they made you feel and the person they inspired you to become.
Each year at Notre Dame, students nominate, vote, and help bestow the Frank O'Malley Undergraduate Teaching Award to an outstanding faculty member based upon excellent service to the student community. The distinguished honoree for 2018 is Dr. Nancy Michael, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, the director of undergraduate studies, Neuroscience and Behavior, and a Fellow in the Institute for Educational Initiatives.
Reflecting on being nominated by her students, Michael said, “It is hugely humbling. There’s no greater reward or greater recognition than knowing that you’ve made a difference for the better in the life of someone else.” As a teacher, she wants her students to understand the subject matter. Even more importantly, Michael wants each of them to fully believe they have the capacity to “leave the world a little bit more strong, a little bit more compassionate, a little bit more capable.”
Michael’s zeal for her field, emphasis on active learning, and genuine care for the growth of the whole student sets her apart. “I believe that neuroscience has an opportunity and responsibility to share what we know about human behavior to make the world a better place, she said. She believes that with greater understanding of the mechanisms of behavior, people can begin to think differently about intervention and the way people are cared for. “Understanding that gives choice and power that wasn’t there before,” she said. “I think it’s a Luke verse that was popularized by Spiderman—‘With great power comes great responsibility’—with this knowledge comes power. That’s a repeating theme in my classes.”
Cultivating a long-term learning experience for her students also motivates Michael. She said, “Knowledge doesn’t have to be functional or permanent. That really has informed the way I teach. ‘How do I want you to be a different—and hopefully better—human as a result of this class?’ I hope that in 5, 10, 15 years when all the details of the class have vanished into the background…my students might stop and think, for example, ‘You know I had a class this one time and maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.’ That’s what I love about teaching. That there’s the potential for that every day.”
The annual undergraduate teaching award memorializes legendary Notre Dame Professor Frank O'Malley, who taught at the University for over 40 years. “O’Malley revealed to his students the desperate need in the world for love, passion, and heroism…He made sure that his students’ souls were alive, that they did not become complacent and lukewarm…with the aid of literature, philosophy, and theology, O’Malley gave his students the tools necessary to examine reality and get to the truth of things.”