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Distinguished Teaching Awards for Drs. Giangiacomo and Popoff

News April 08, 2021

Popoff and GiangiacomoThe Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Awards for Distinguished Teaching, established in 1961, are among the most coveted university teaching awards in the greater Delaware Valley. And on April 1, two Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM) faculty were each presented with one: Steven N. Popoff, PhD, the John Huber Professor and Chair of the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology, and Kathleen Giangiacomo, PhD, Associate Professor of Medical Genetics and Molecular Biochemistry.

The honors were presented during Temple University’s 2019-2021 Faculty Teaching, Research, Creative and Service Awards, a virtual event hosted by Temple University President Richard Englert, Provost Joanne Epps, and for LKSOM’s portion of the ceremony, Heather Clauss, MD, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs.

“Candidates for the Lindback Award must be nominated by their schools. The criteria are rigorous,” says Dr. Clauss. “In addition to demonstrating mastery of their subject area, Lindback award winners must exemplify excellence and innovation through the methods, modalities, and materials they develop. They must also engage in the continuous improvement of their teaching.”

Drs. Popoff and Giangiacomo have met these criteria and more.

Dr. Popoff, the Lindback Award winner for the 2019-2020 academic year, joined LKSOM in 1988 – and just nine years later was named the John Franklin Huber Chair of the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology. He has greatly expanded his own teaching portfolio over the years – and directs courses taught by multiple faculty.

“Beyond advancing education in his own department, he is deeply engaged in advancing educational strategy at the school level -- having twice chaired the committee to redesign the Medical School Curriculum, among other school-wide contributions,” says Dr. Clauss.

Moreover, his articles in leading publications (such as the Journal of the American Medical Association) and his presentations at national educational group meetings show his contributions at the national level.  He reviews manuscripts for several journals, serves on editorial boards, is a longtime NIH grant reviewer – and has himself been continuously funded by the NIH and industry since 1985. On July 1, 2021, he will become Chair of LKSOM’s new Department of Biomedical Education & Data Science.

“Students and faculty alike recognize Dr. Popoff’s deep commitment to student success.  The formal evaluations of his teaching are outstanding -- referencing his efforts to go ‘above and beyond.’ He is responsive to student feedback and readily makes adjustments in his approach,” says Dr. Clauss.

Dr. Popoff

Communication proficiency defines an educator. “Of all the teachers, he was the most efficient at making information relatable,” a recent student said.   

Dr. Kathleen M. Giangiacomo -- the Lindback Award honoree for the 2020-2021 academic year – is a superb communicator, too. She joined the Molecular Biochemistry faculty in 1993 and quickly became an essential educational asset.

“Biochemistry is a difficult subject to master and to teach, but Dr. Giangiacomo has succeeded with aplomb, translating complex material into concepts that students can grasp,” Dr. Clauss says. “And, no matter what she’s teaching, she is also teaching effective communication, too. Students express appreciation for the ways she’s helped them become better communicators inside and outside the classroom.”

“Her teaching has been highly innovative,” says Dr. Clauss. “Since 2011, well before COVID-19 fast-tracked online teaching, Dr. Giangiacomo leveraged virtual classrooms as mainstay of her teaching --   incorporating flipped classroom, peer instruction, peer evaluation, and in-class polling to enhance engagement and interactivity.  

She has developed many new courses and course modifications – for example, a graduate course called “Experimental Design and Biostatistics,” which covers the relationship between statistical concepts, biological questions and experimental techniques.

“Dr. Giangiacomo is quick to identify and respond to educational needs – beyond school level,” Dr. Clauss notes.  For example, in 2015, when the Medical College Admission Test added a section on Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, she developed a multi-modal online MCAT Biochemistry course that Temple offers through its Office of Continuing Education.

She strives to improve her teaching by continuing her own education. She enrolls in Temple’s certificate programs and courses in educational theory and methods -- always sharing what she learns with her colleagues. “Her colleagues credit her with helping them become more effective instructors,” says Dr. Clauss. “In addition, she uses student feedback to gauge her effectiveness, not just their progress.”

Dr. Giangiacomo’s core teaching philosophy is to provide a safe learning environment, teach with humility and kindness, praise students, and admit her own mistakes. A current student said, “I not only admire her; I am inspired by her.” 

Both Drs. Giangiacomo and Popoff are known for their outstanding contributions to LKSOM -- and to the Kornberg School of Dentistry and the School of Podiatric Medicine at Temple.  

What Dr. Clauss says is true: “Their merit for the Lindback Award is abundantly manifest.”

- Giselle Zayon