Biology professor recognized for teaching excellence
How do you measure student success? Some approaches are a numbers game, while others require a little more nuance.
This is a question that Harold Olivey, IU Northwest clinical assistant professor of biology, has thought about a lot. Although his job as a professor involves its fair share of research, his passion lies in teaching and student success.
“I enjoyed research, but at the end of graduate school I was pretty sure I didn’t want it to be the focus of my career,” he said. Having first sparked an interest in biology in a high school classroom, Olivey saw himself standing in front of his own biology class one day.
Now, Olivey teaches a variety of courses in the IU Northwest biology department and works on research centered on students’ classroom experience. “In the past five or six years, I’ve looked at my classes as the research issue,” he said. “I recognize an issue in class, and think ‘What’s out there that I could try? What could I adapt?’”
One thing Olivey has adapted for his classes is collaborative learning. Instead of working independently, students work together to solve problems and apply knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom.
For Olivey, a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching just doesn’t cut it. Instead, he attempts to meet students where they’re at and reach their personal version of success.
It’s that commitment to student-centered courses that earned Olivey a spot in the Faculty Academy on Excellence in Teaching (FACET). This organization is IU-wide and intends to contribute to and lead wide-ranging teaching and learning initiatives.
“The FACET community is focused on teaching excellence,” Olivey said. “Being a member gives me the opportunity to learn from folks and see how I can think about things in a different way.”
For one, Olivey has taken to looking at student success a little differently. While he recognizes the importance of concrete numbers (graduation rates, retention rates, etc.), he also stresses the value in other definitions of student success.
“Sometimes student success means you take a little longer to graduate because you’re paying your way through school. Sometimes it means graduating without a lot of debt,” he said. “We want to pay attention to graduation rates, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that success is sometimes just completing a course.”
Olivey is dedicated to helping students complete his courses to the best of their ability, even if it takes a second try. He emphasizes that exceptional instructors should recognize that students bring different talents to the table, and teaching styles should be adapted to match students’ existing skills and goals.
“I feel a calling to give students a solid foundation to get what they’re hoping for out of their college education and allow them to help their communities,” he said.
Olivey recalls something his PhD advisor once told him—that his job as a science instructor is not necessarily to discover the “next big thing,” but to train students who can go on to do incredible things.
And with student success at the forefront of everything he does, 2022 FACET inductee Olivey is perfectly positioned to give students those opportunities.