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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Khidir Hilu


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Khidir Hilu, professor of Biological Sciences, for his commitment to teaching in a way that focuses on transforming large classes into smaller ones by connecting with the students as individuals, being unpretentious and respectful to them, and treating them as future citizens and leaders. His style of teaching conveys to the students his deep enthusiasm and love of the subjects and innate strong desire for learning. One of his students noted, “Professor Hilu has an infectious enthusiasm for the subject matter, which I attribute to my enjoyment of the course.”

Dr. Hilu currently teaches two undergraduate courses: Plant Taxonomy (for plant sciences majors) and Plants and Civilizations (University Core Area 7), and co-teaches the GBCB graduate seminar course. He also teaches a summer study abroad course “Botanizing the Alps and Mediterranean Italy.” Since his arrival at Virginia Tech, he has taught or co-taught 11 graduate and undergraduate courses. He was selected by students for the 2007 Department of Biological Science Outstanding Teaching Award and was recognized this year by students as a “Favorite Faculty.”

Dr. Hilu’s lecturing techniques combine well-designed PowerPoint presentations and videos for effective visualization and are supplemented with a variety of plant material and cultural artifacts for demonstration as well as exotic edibles to expand students’ views on plants, cultures and environmental conservation. He relates the material to national and global issues in the news, adding multidimensionality to the learning experience. To effectively involve the students, he establishes group discussions in the classroom and encourages questions and answers by rewarding students with nominal awards of a dime or a nickel, generating enthusiasm mixed with humor. He strongly believes that occasionally injecting timely humor in the class has multiple benefits and rewards for the students, as evidenced by student comments:

“Dr. Hilu is a terrific instructor. His class was always interesting and I loved how he brought his real life experiences into the class. He actually made learning fun. He is a great professor!”

“I always wanted to come to class because you are a phenomenal teacher. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.”

Dr. Hilu has an internationally recognized research program in plant biodiversity and evolution that spans land plant origin and diversification. His lab has been part of the National Science Foundation “Assembling the Tree of Life” Project, and has contributed to the understanding of genetic diversity of a number of cereal and legume crops, and to gene differentiation including the allergy genes in peanuts. He has 114 peer-review journal articles and 150 conference abstracts, and has been involved in funded projects totaling ~7 million dollars, including the recent funding that established the Virginia Tech new supercomputer HokieSpeed.

Dr. Hilu has advised over 20 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scientists including Fulbright Fellows, and has been mentoring 4-6 undergraduate research students each year. He believes that investing the time to be an effective mentor is an important duty, and as a consequence, he has had very successful graduate students that have served the department and the university, receiving outstanding teaching awards from the department and the Graduate College, being selected to represent Virginia Tech graduate life on the Commonwealth Higher Education website, and receiving the Dissertation Award for the Sciences and Engineering. His funds from USAID established a molecular biology laboratory at Egerton College, Kenya, and as a Fulbright Fellow, he started a similar lab at Bin Zuhor University, Morocco; these efforts were combined with training faculty and students to carry out research on their native crops.

Dr. Hilu’s students recognize his effectiveness and gift for teaching, one student commenting “I loved this class...I learned so much and it will stick with not change anything this was one of the best classes I have taken at VT and THE best in the biology department.”

In a show of appreciation, students have applauded him at course conclusions for the past three semesters.

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