Nobel laureate and professor Leland Hartwell involves honors students in education redesign research

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March 11, 2015

Leland Hartwell Leland Hartwell

Leland Hartwell

Leland "Lee" Hartwell thinks there's a lot teachers could learn from students and he aims to use his experience with honors students to help shift the education paradigm.

Hartwell is a 2001 Nobel Prize recipient, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Health at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and the Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine.

His work at the center in the Biodesign Institute aims to identify biomarkers for personalized, pre-symptomatic diagnoses and developing intelligence tools needed for better patient outcomes.

He has taught genetics and conducted cancer research. He holds professorships in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

With all of his expertise and a lifetime of work in science and teaching, Hartwell says he still has much to learn, particularly from students.

That’s one reason why he is teaching honors courses for students in Barrett Honors College at ASU.

Last fall, he taught a class called 21st Century Ideas in which honors students were encouraged to explore ideas that would help shape their work on projects. He will teach a companion honors class called 21st Century Skills in the Fall 2015 semester in which students will put their ideas into action to complete their own projects.

He is using the classes as research for education reform recommendations he hopes to make that will impact the way classes are taught and make a case for students' involvement in developing their own curriculum.

“I have come to the realization that students have great insight that we’re not taking advantage of,” he said, adding that education often functions in a “paternalistic mode where teachers think they know what’s right for students.”

“Students have great aspirations for their future and they should be involved in deciding what they learn,” by having input into decisions about curriculum and course development, he said.

“I see these experiences with honors students as a stepping stone to larger inroads on education reform. Honors students have served as a sounding board to test ideas and I’ve also learned from them,” he said.

For instance, he has acquired useful information from students regarding how and when to choose a university major, what internship opportunities would be useful in gaining professional experience, suggestions on how to teach in ways that engage students and make the student-professor relationship more collaborative, providing course information that makes sense, and ways to involve students in decision making.

“Lee is brilliant and creative. I am thrilled that our honor students have the opportunity to work with him. And I emphasize that they are working with him, since he is very focused on their perspectives. He is engaging our students in thinking about the redesign of education to better serve 21st-century students,” said Margaret Nelson, Barrett Honors College vice dean.