CyThx Teaching Spotlight: Thimmasettapp Thippeswamy (Swamy)

Headshot of Dr. Thippeswamy
Headshot of Dr. Thippeswamy

Dr. Thippeswamy was featured in #CyThx 2020 with this message: 

Dr. Thippeswamy is an undeniably valuable professor at the college of veterinary medicine. He serves as the instructor for first-year anatomy–one of the major fundamentals of the profession. This year, I have had the privilege of working as a teaching assistant under his leadership. This experience highlighted Dr. Swamy’s dedication to students’ success and willingness to go the extra mile for high-quality education. Despite the challenges presented with the ongoing pandemic, Dr. Swamy worked quickly and diligently to alter scheduling and laboratory protocol to ensure no aspect of his course was diluted. Over the semester, he dedicated many extra hours offering students support and made himself available for additional instruction. In addition to this, Dr. Swamy advocated for the success of his teaching assistants as well, providing constructive feedback and reminding us to prioritize our own studies. He continually made me feel like a valued member of the anatomy-teaching team–I am so grateful for his leadership and kindness!

Dr. Thippeswamy shared this teaching advice:

Teaching is an art and a noble profession. I remind myself that I am constantly subjected to rigorous scrutiny (“on spotlight”) by students. Thus, I believe, my behavior and teaching style impact students’ learning outcomes. Students, per se, are not judgmental, but they evaluate my teaching approach, the standard of assessment, and professionalism. Teaching in higher education in an intense research department can further pressure faculty and compromise teaching and assessment standards. Therefore, I remind myself not to lower the assessment standards to cover up any weaknesses that can be detrimental to the fundamental principles of my philosophy of teaching. I also frequently remind myself not to dilute the teaching principles by adopting “short-cut methods or appeasement.” Having taught in three different countries for over 35 years, I learned new things from students, and their critiques shaped the course that I have been teaching. I owe my teaching awards to my students who helped me grow in this noble profession- students feedback and my response to their critics to improve the course have been the key to my success in teaching. I have learned that my focus needs to be on whether students are achieving the learning outcomes rather than my teaching evaluation score.

Being an NIH-funded research-active faculty, balancing teaching and research has been challenging. Over the years, I learned to enjoy both, despite being stressful at times. Often students ask, “having taught anatomy for so many years, are you not bored?” “Being a successful researcher, why do you teach labor-intense anatomy course?” “would you give up teaching since you have so many research grants?”.  My answer to these questions has been, “as long as I am enthusiastic about what I teach, nothing can distract me.” Perhaps, my engagement with students in the classroom helped to cope with research-related stress and vice versa. I draw inspiration and motivation from students, which helps me to learn new things. Most students won’t know about my success in research, but I am mindful that they are all deeply impacted if teaching and assessment standards are compromised.

Promoting a critical thinking and problem-solving approach, rather than just a facts/memory-based approach, would prepare students to take on challenges in the real world after graduation. Whether we teach or not, or how we teach, ~ 60% of the class would achieve the same grade/class average outcome. As a faculty, it matters what difference I can make to the rest of the class. To target the latter category of students, a big heart and a great mind, rather than a big brain alone, helps find the solution to students’ problems and sync with their well-being. This is especially relevant to the students with accommodations to achieve their best in the course. Students appreciate the “learn and earn the grade” approach rather than giving away grades by setting an easy exam or offering “bonus” points. Students feel proud when they earn their points by answering questions in an exam rather than offering points for participating in a survey. In summary, both positivity and negativity are contagious- “what we sow what we reap.”