Biochemist Gustin wins Rice’s top teaching award

The most important element in Mike Gustin’s biochemistry classes can’t be found on the periodic table.

Michael Gustin

Michael Gustin

“A key part of the Rice experience is still the human element — the more direct (in person) peer-to-peer and faculty-to-student interactions that inspire and support both parties to higher achievement, to think creatively and critically, to laugh together and enjoy learning,” he said.

That philosophy, his vast knowledge of his field and his infectious enthusiasm for learning have proven to be a winning formula for the professor of biochemistry and cell biology — and for his students. He has earned multiple teaching awards over his 25 years at Rice, and this year he was recognized with Rice’s top teaching honor, the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

He said his approach to teaching a course has changed a lot over the years. He has introduced more active learning through small-group activities and uses a course “to create a community of people learning and thinking together about a specific subject.”

“Another change in my approach was recognition of the amazing potential of peer-to-peer education to transform the educational experience at college and beyond to more of an emergent educational culture rather than a top-down activity,” he said. “One result of this insight was the creation and continuation of student-taught courses at Rice, a student-driven initiative that I helped catalyze. Especially for those teaching Rice student-taught courses, this has frequently been a life-changing experience.”

Gustin was selected for the George R. Brown Prize by students who graduated two and five years ago, 2011 and 2008, respectively — years that overlapped with his tenure as master of Wiess College (2006-2011). He said his time as a college master also changed his approach to teaching.

“Knowing students as more complete people had a relaxing effect on me, allowing me to better move past ‘us’ (faculty) and ‘them’ (students) to seeing everyone (Rice faculty, students and staff) as all part of a common, bonded community that can work well together in and out of the classroom,” he said. “I liked the informal educational experiences and student-associate interactions that the residential colleges offer.”

This is the second time Gustin has won the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching. He’s also been previously recognized with the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching as well as the Nicolas Salgo Distinguished Teaching Award.


About Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans is a senior editor in the Rice's Office of Public Affairs.