Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week
The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Nicolin Girmes-Grieco, instructor of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, for effective instruction, particularly in a large classroom setting, which she believes must be engaging, innovative, versatile, challenging and perhaps most importantly, it must also be multi-directional. Her students not only learn from her, but she learns from them and together they move to another dimension of knowledge, understanding, and mutual respect.
Nicolin Girmes-Grieco currently teaches HNFE 2014 Nutrition Across the Life Span (a large enrollment course), HNFE 2014 Nutrition Across the Life Span for Honors students, HNFE 2234 Food Selection & Preparation Lecture, HNFE 2224 Food Selection & Preparation Labs, and HNFE 4794 Independent Study in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise. In addition, she taught HNFE 3034 Methods of Human Nutritional Assessment in the past. She believes that the process of teaching and mentoring is as deeply personal and challenging as is the process of learning. Indeed, she posits that the two are interdependent and always take place concurrently. Nicolin Girmes-Grieco approaches teaching understanding that everyone has different learning styles, talents, and limitations that they bring to each classroom. She believes that, rather than trying to overcome these differences by making everything as structured and delineated as possible, we can celebrate our diversities and capitalize on them. During her first class of each semester, she tells her students about her unique background and the unusual path she took to get where she is now. She shares her story to comfort those who are relentlessly searching for the perfect career, to inspire others who have never considered exploring more than one career, and to request that we all honor our individualities. Her goal has always been to facilitate a respectful, stimulating, and positive learning environment for all of her students so that they may feel encouraged to learn from her as well as from each other. In this positive learning environment she can facilitate her students’ transformation from simply listening attentively to being actively engaged by speaking up and asking articulate, thought-provoking questions which enhance everyone’s learning experience. She considers collaboration, respect, and teamwork to be essential not just in hands-on student labs, but in classes as well. Through mutual respect she and her students can agree to disagree when she asks her students to share their opinions regarding controversial nutrition-related topics as they use an i>clicker system. Through collaboration, peer-learning takes place not only when her students work in groups as part of their in-class activities, but also when they critically evaluate peer-reviewed literature as part of their weekly journal club meetings in her honors section. Nicolin Girmes-Grieco believes that teaching and learning are truly multi-directional, multi-faceted, and ever-changing. She hopes that her students have learned as much from her she continues to learn from them. Although there is no “right” formula for teaching successfully, she approaches teaching from the stance that, as life-long learners, educators are committed to searching for new and innovative ways to impact more students, more positively and for many more years beyond the brief class time that teachers have the honor of sharing with their students.
Nicolin Girmes-Grieco has expressed that she feels she has been extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to teach small, medium, and large classes; lectures and labs; and courses in human nutrition and food science. Throughout her teaching experiences her students have always been the driving force behind everything she does and how she does it. Their feedback is her primary impetus for the changes she makes to continuously enhance her teaching. To make learning challenging yet not overwhelming, she provides her students with note guides, which they complete as they come to her class so that they are actively taking notes while they also have plenty of time to process the information and to ask thoughtful questions, which can then ignite a dialogue that is informative, spontaneous, and meaningful to both her and her students. To reinforce what her students are learning in the classroom, she assigns work that is relevant to the course content as well as to their lives presently and in the future. In a laboratory class that is designed to teach undergraduates research methodology, her students have conducted their own research study from beginning to end each semester as they perform the role of investigator and subject. In her recently assigned Food Selection and Preparation course, she and her students explored the functionality of different ingredients as they modernized and transformed traditional recipes to become more therapeutic ones by increasing, decreasing, or eliminating ingredients like dietary fiber, unhealthy fats, or gluten. These are just a few examples of how her teaching is always student-driven and learner-centered.
Whether she instructs 150 or 400+ undergraduates per semester, the vast majority of her students respond well to her efforts and she is very grateful for their constructive feedback. Between 2011 and 2013, her average student evaluation (SPOT item 7) was 5.71/6.00 and multiple students commented that she was the “best teacher” they had ever had. She was selected as a Favorite Faculty in 2010, 2013, and in 2014, and during the 2012-2013 academic year, she was the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ recipient of the Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award. She explained, “To be recognized by those who inspire me the most – my students and my colleagues – for something that feeds my heart and soul every day – has simply been beyond my wildest imagination!”
“Prof. Grieco is the most knowledgeable, approachable, and dedicated professor I have had the pleasure of learning under here at VT. People like her are what make VT a world class learning experience” [Anonymous Comment from SPOT Survey, HNFE 3034, spring 2013]
Resource: Certificate of Teaching Excellence