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ASU professor named Arizona Bioscience Educator of the Year

Miles Orchinik
September 11, 2014

The Arizona Bioindustry Association has selected Miles Orchinik, an associate professor with Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, as the recipient of the 2014 Michael A. Cusanovich Arizona Bioscience Educator of the Year award.

As associate director of the school’s undergraduate programs from 2009 to 2014, Orchinik made a number of innovative changes to improve how students engage with each other, faculty and the information they learn in the classroom.

“Great educators open our eyes to possibilities,” said Joan Koerber-Walker, president and CEO of the Arizona BioIndustry Association. “For those of us who may have left the classroom years ago, they create for us the gift of future scientists, engineers, medical professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders. Through his work in the classroom and in the lab, Dr. Orchinik is inspiring a new generation of Arizona Bioscience Leaders.”

“The School of Life Sciences is privileged to have an exceptional and innovative educator such as Miles Orchinik as part of our faculty,” said Bert Jacobs, interim director of the school. “This award is a well-deserved validation of Miles’ time as associate director of the undergraduate program, and I could not be more proud of him.”

One of Orchinik’s main efforts involved encouraging faculty to step away from traditional lectures and move toward some form of “active learning,” where students are engaged participators instead of passive observers in the classroom. According to Orchinik, numerous studies show that students learn more in courses that incorporate active learning.

“Decades of research have provided numerous insights into how students learn, and one of the most important conclusions is that students learn when they construct their own knowledge,” Orchinik said. “We’re scientists, so let’s look at the research and collect our own data on what works, and teach in student-centered ways that promote learning and student success.”

Working with teams of life sciences faculty and graduate students to develop new and improved courses, Orchinik helped to create a more hands-on learning environment for life sciences students. In addition, now that Orchinik has more time for the classroom, he is teaching an animal physiology course with Sara Brownell, an assistant professor whose expertise is in biology education research. They have abandoned lectures almost entirely in favor of active learning approaches.

Orchinik also created several programs that ensure all School of Life Sciences students have a chance for success from the beginning of their college careers. He expanded the school’s undergraduate mentoring program and established both “Ignite” and the “BioBridge Early Start Program.”

Ignite is a two-day freshman retreat that provides incoming students a chance to meet classmates, faculty and advising staff, while participating in team-building exercises. The Early Start Program, alternatively, is a two-week academic and community-building experience for incoming freshmen who may not have been adequately prepared for college during high school.

Orchinik will be honored Sept. 17 during a dinner and awards ceremony hosted by The Arizona Bioindustry Association. The ceremony celebrates Arizona’s leading educators, innovators and companies in the bioscience industry. The Arizona Bioindustry Association is comprised of member organizations in business, research, government and other professions involved in the biosciences.