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Wiese and Bass Win Professional, Graduate Teaching Awards

May 22, 2007

Mary Ann Travis

Coach and professional mentor. These are the roles Jeffrey Wiese and Laura Bass see themselves fulfilling. Wiese and Bass received the Tulane University President's Awards for Excellence in Professional and Graduate Teaching, respectively, at University Commencement on Saturday (May 19).


Tulane President Scott Cowen (top photo, at left) presents one of the two 2007 President's Awards for Graduate and Professional Teaching to Laura Bass, right, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, while Jeffrey Wiese (lower photo, at right), associate professor of clinical medicine, receives his award from Alan Miller, left, interim senior vice president for the Tulane University Health Sciences Center. (Photos by George Long)

Wiese is associate professor of medicine and director of the internal medicine residency program in the Tulane University School of Medicine.

He is in the Section of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Tulane and is chief of medicine at the Medical Center of Louisiana.

Bass is assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese in the Tulane University School of Liberal Arts. Both Wiese and Bass look to the practical side of life in educating students.

In his philosophy of teaching, Wiese says, "What a student knows matters little if he is unable to put the knowledge into action for the benefit of his patients. Knowledge is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Medicine is about the ability to execute. And this is my focus in medical education: I no longer teach, I coach."

Bass says, "With graduate students, you have to be aware that you're training them professionally to be teachers, professors, researchers. You need to teach them how to apply for grants, how to write for publication in journals and give them ideas about publishing contacts. But they are still learning, and it is important to give them consistent feedback."

Wiese practices what he preaches in terms of action. During the year following Hurricane Katrina, Wiese personally visited every single displaced Tulane medical resident in his program at 50 institutions nationwide.

He logged 33,000 miles by car and 15,000-plus cell-phone minutes, burned up 1,534 gallons of gasoline, drank 197 gallons of coffee and spent 95 nights sleeping in hotels for a total of 1,155 hours of sleep while he worked nearly 3,600 hours.

As a result of Wiese's heroic efforts, 95 percent of the internal medicine residents returned to New Orleans after their Katrina displacement, while many others chose to come to Tulane for the first time.

During the dark days of December 2005, when some people voiced skepticism about Tulane medical school's future, Wiese wrote in an e-mail to his residents, "We are going to succeed in this endeavor of reconstructing our residency team and fulfilling our mission of providing to the underserved the best damn care possible. There are many things I don't know for sure right now, but this is not one of them."

052207_awardees2_2 For the faint of heart, he gave a caution and a promise: "You need to know that as we go forward, things aren't going to be easy but they are always going to be worth it."

As a gifted medical educator, Weiss has received recognition from students, residents and peers. Among the awards he has received is the 2007 Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

The award recognizes educators dedicated to teaching new doctors and developing innovative and effective residency programs.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the university's graduate programs underwent an innovative restructuring of their own as part of the Renewal Plan. The Tulane PhD offerings became more focused, while some doctoral programs were suspended. Bass' Department of Spanish and Portuguese is one of the departments poised for growth, as it received additional university support for graduate students. And next fall, half a dozen new PhD candidates will enter the department, while last year only one did.

Bass is a specialist in the cultural production of early modern Spain and Spanish America and teaches both undergraduates and graduate students. She has been instrumental in moving the department forward and has compiled a timeline to better orient graduate students on the path to a PhD.

She also has helped improve written guidelines for student preparation for doctoral exams. Bass' influence in graduate education extends beyond Tulane, as she is coeditor of the Modern Language Association volume, Approaches to Teaching Early Modern Spanish Drama.

Bass likes teaching graduate students because she gets to closely know them with a deep intellectual connection during the process of learning. This ongoing process "demands close engagement and response to written work," she says as she looks out for what could become a chapter in a dissertation or a journal article.

Christopher Dunn, chair of the Spanish and Portuguese department at Tulane, says that Bass "possesses the combination of passion and patience, interpersonal generosity and intellectual rigor that makes her an excellent adviser for PhD candidates."

Bass says she is optimistic about the strength of the Spanish and Portuguese graduate program at Tulane. "There is a real commitment on behalf of the department chair and others in our training graduate students to become professionals. We're on the upswing." As recipients of the President's Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Wiese and Bass each received a medal designed by professor emeritus Franklin Adams and a stipend of $5,000.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000