April 27, 2007

Martinko honored as SIUC's Outstanding Teacher

by K.C. Jaehnig


Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Microbiologist John M. Martinko has won Southern Illinois University Carbondale's 2007 Outstanding Teacher award.

The honor, part of the University's "Excellence Through Commitment Awards Program" established in 2004, carries a $7,500 cash prize and $7,500 in professional development funds. Martinko also receives a personal parking space for a year and a wristwatch provided by the SIU Alumni Association.

Martinko and the program's other winners were recognized at a dinner hosted by interim Chancellor John M. Dunn Thursday, April 26, at the Student Center.

Martinko specializes in immunology; he is the only professor on the Carbondale campus who teaches it. At the undergraduate level, he works with a team of two others in a course aimed at acquainting departmental and biological science majors with mircrobiology, and he has at various times taught the core curriculum course designed to introduce it to students majoring in other subjects. He also teaches a more advanced course for majors as well as an advanced laboratory course. At the graduate level, he teaches a literature-based, intensive course which includes the most current material in the field.

At the other end of the spectrum, he works with high school students, many of them from minority or underprivileged backgrounds; participates in science fairs, both as a sponsor and a judge; and works with teachers to improve their own classroom instruction.

"It is indeed the rare teacher who can inspire both the beginning student and the more seasoned upperclassman," wrote colleague Michael T. Madigan in a letter supporting Martinko's candidacy for the award.

"But to do this and challenge doctoral students as well, this is the stuff of a master teacher. Only an outstanding teacher can connect at all of these levels, and John is that teacher."

The words "challenging" and "engaging"continually crop up when folks describe Martinko's teaching.

"He has an engaging style that holds students' attention even through difficult material," wrote Jolynn Smith, who team teaches the introductory course with him.

Madigan wrote that Martinko "engages and challenges students to understand the basic concepts. He teaches in such a way that students gain the confidence they need to handle the material, and then he guides them to discover for themselves the role and importance of immunology and medical microbiology in the big picture of microbiology."

That doesn't happen by accident, particularly with the newer students. Martinko does his best to make students comfortable in class.

"I believe that comfortable students will ask questions, volunteer answers and often provide useful anecdotes and insights," he wrote in a statement summarizing his teaching philosophy.

"I often say, 'I don't know.' I want students to understand that lack of knowledge is simply a starting point to gain new knowledge."

When it comes to the subject material itself, he tries to present difficult material "one idea or experiment at a time," he wrote.

"With several pieces in place, I make an organized effort to synthesize the material into a larger cohesive story, bringing all the students' knowledge together to build a conceptual framework incorporating a number of individual complex ideas. I try to help students understand information, to make connections and to really 'get it' in terms of the whole discipline."

Graduate program alumni described his breadth of knowledge, his energetic teaching, his cutting-edge techniques, his friendliness, integrity and mentoring skills.

"John taught me ethics, mental toughness, and untold lessons in collegial behavior," wrote William H. Hildebrand, an endowed presidential scholar at The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

"John feared no experiment and did whatever was needed to move forward scientifically. I will carry this attitude with me forever."

Joyce Sollheim , associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, wrote,

"In addition to what he taught me about immunology, there were many other lessons … that would be necessary information when I later came to head my own laboratory: how to develop projects in new directions, how to collaborate effectively with other scientists, how to be supportive and fair with students and technicians. I could never have learned these lessons from a textbook."

Perhaps his contributions to his students could best be summed up by this simple statement from Chandrashekhar Thukral, now a medical doctor and professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

"Whatever success I may have achieved, I owe a lot of it to him," Thukral wrote.

Martinko, who won college-level awards for outstanding teaching in 2003 and 2004, came to SIUC in 1981 after four years as a postdoctoral fellow at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. He earned his bachelor's in 1970 from The Cleveland State University and his master's and doctorate in 1976 and 1978 respectively from The State University of New York at Buffalo.

Caption: Top teacher – Interim Chancellor John M. Dunn (left) congratulates microbiologist John M. Martinko, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s 2007 Outstanding Teacher.

Photo by Steve Buhman