Dr. Ana Gamero: An Excellence in Education Award for a Once-Reluctant Teacher
Research came naturally to Ana Gamero, PhD. When she was a little girl, growing up in Lima, Peru, a particular building used to draw her attention when she’d pass by, riding on the bus with her mom.
The structure had columns, and people going in and out—"some coming out very slowly,” recalled Dr. Gamero. “Something attracted me to that building.” When she asked her mother what the building was, she learned it was a cancer hospital.
So began her interest in science and medicine. She completed her undergraduate and PhD degrees in the United States at the University of South Florida, a postdoctoral fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, then served as a National Cancer Institute Scholar.
Research came naturally, yes.
Teaching, however, was a different story.
“Teaching was never on my radar,” admits the Associate Professor of Medical Genetics and Molecular Biochemistry.
“I never saw myself standing in front of a classroom. I was actually petrified of doing that.” But, as Dr. Gamero puts it, “Life is full of surprises.”
The young scientist who thought, when she came to Temple in 2008, that she would “just faint” if she had to step in front of a classroom, in October received a Lewis Katz School of Medicine 2021 Excellence in Education Award for graduate science teaching.
She recalled thinking, when she heard the news, that it might be a mistake. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “You do what you do without realizing how much it impacts others.”
Those in the know — her students — know it’s no mistake. They give her teaching high marks. Said one: “Dr. Gamero is amazing. Because of her enthusiastic attitude, I have not forgotten important material.” And another: “Her lectures are consistently well-organized, easy to understand, delivered with warmth and humor.” Others describe the upbeat woman as “kind,” “helpful,” and “accessible.”
Dr. Gamero teaches and directs courses at the Katz School of Medicine, as well as in the Dental School and School of Podiatric Medicine – and her students’ impressions reflect her thoughtful and deliberate approach. For example, she considers the fact that her students come from different backgrounds and levels of learning. “I have to teach in a way that everybody is included,” she said.
She specializes in breaking down complex concepts into “smaller, easier-to-understand units, with numerous visual aids, many real-life examples, and some added humor.” This method is especially useful for classes like biochemistry. “Students do not like biochemistry in general,” she notes. “There is a lot of complexity.”
But Dr. Gamero’s goals as a teacher stretch beyond making sure her students understand abstract concepts like oxidative phosphorylation and ATP hydrolysis. It’s important to her to function as a mentor as well. She knows how challenging it can be to go through a master’s or doctoral program, and the difference the right support can make. “Graduate-level education can test your resilience,” she said.
Dr. Gamero believes that the Katz School provides a nurturing environment for students. “Students appreciate the school’s diverse patient population, as well as the support from faculty,” she said.
Noting that she owes a lot to her own mentors, Dr. Gamero said she enjoys mentoring students both inside and outside of the classroom. “They’re so willing to learn,” she said. “I want them to succeed.” Among other activities, she serves as faculty advisor and mentor to the students in the school’s Latino Medical Student Association. “It is a role I enjoy very much,” she said.
For Dr. Gamero, teaching is not a one-way street. “I learn so much from them in so many different ways,” she says of her students. “They teach me to stay grounded. They remind me that it's OK to be myself. My students give me the incentive to come to work and do what I was meant to do."
In addition to teaching, Dr. Gamero is a researcher in the Fox Chase Cancer Prevention and Control program. Her lab investigates molecular mechanisms of inflammation and their link to cancer.
She stays on her toes overseeing her lab, where she and her student researchers focus on investigating the role of the protein STAT2 in psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer. Her many responsibilities make for a beyond-busy schedule. “I used to sleep eight hours,” she reflected with a laugh. “Not anymore.”
But she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I have so many things that I’m doing right now,” she said. “It feels very satisfying, very rewarding.”
“I always wanted to be a scientist,” said Dr. Gamero. “I was just drawn to it.”
Now she’s an award-winning educator, too.
- Abbey J. Porter