Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week
The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Leigh-Anne Krometis, assistant professor of Biological Systems Engineering, for her dedication to teaching young engineers to view their education as a conversation, which demands not only knowledge of the math and science basics necessary to communicate, but also an ability to formulate questions and consider the overall structure and consequences of complex problems.
In the classroom, Dr. Krometis aims to model this idea of science and engineering as a conversation through frequent opportunities to interact with real-world problems. While her courses always include a lecture component, students are given opportunities during each class meeting to apply new concepts directly, either through laboratory exercises or example problems that are rooted in current issues. Allowing students to struggle through a problem, with some guidance, forces them to engage their technical and critical thinking skills as they consider the implications of an unclear or surprising answer. Recognizing that students not only understand “where the number came from,” but also what the answer means in terms of a human or environmental impact builds both deep understanding and professional confidence. Former students have contacted Dr. Krometis each summer; these students are excited to relate to her how they impressed their co-workers during summer internships by explaining the legal, economic, and/or environmental consequences of a proposed design.
Hoping to promote broader thinking beyond simply “getting the right answer,” Dr. Krometis has begun to use concept mapping in all of her courses for the purpose of encouraging a systems-thinking approach that allows students to draw connections between material from multiple classes; a final project for students in the second-semester junior class she teaches includes designing a concept map that links material they have had in core classes to what they still need to know in order to complete their desired senior design project. Students appreciate not only the strong foundation of knowledge they have constructed, but also recognize the importance of material in planned future courses, even that material which reaches beyond their discipline.
Students have repeatedly recognized Leigh-Anne’s efforts in the classroom. In 2012, Alpha Epsilon, the honor society of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, presented her with the Outstanding Faculty award in recognition of her dedication to undergraduate and graduate student learning; that same semester she was also nominated for a “Virginia Tech Favorite Faculty” award by one of her first-year students in Engineering Exploration (ENGE 1024). While her student perception of teaching scores are well above average (e.g., 6.0/6.0 “quality of instruction” for the junior level course taught in Spring 2014), the student comments are what most accurately reflect Leigh-Anne’s desire to model science and engineering as an ongoing conversation. A student in one of her freshmen engineering sections commented: "She is very knowledgeable about what she [is] does and she is a great teacher. She does not talk at you, she makes you interact. I give major props for her to keep us somewhat focused on a Monday at 9 a.m." This experience was echoed by a student in a junior-level watershed engineering class: “Dr. Krometis was always willing to help students think through problems and understand material being discussed. All material could be related to relevant world issues.”
In order to ensure that she continues to remain relevant, Dr. Krometis frequently engages with others interested in pedagogy: she has published in the peer-reviewed journal College Teaching, attended conferences on the science of teaching and learning, and in 2014 she completed the New Faculty/Early Career Teaching Certificate program offered by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) at Virginia Tech.