August 28, 2000
One is an almost 30-year veteran of Tulane; the other joined the faculty six years ago. One studies how lack of oxygen affects the brain; the other examines the complexities of debt and equity placement.
On the surface, Norman Kreisman and Venkat Subramaniam appear as different as two could be, but the two professors now have at least one thing in common. In May, Kreisman, professor of physiology, and Subramaniam, associate professor of finance, were named the inaugural recipients of the President's Awards for Excellence in Teaching.
The awards, selected by the Senate Committee on Teaching Quality based on nominations from each school and college, honored Kreisman for his teaching at the graduate and professional school level and Subramaniam for his teaching at the undergraduate level. The awards carry with them a medal designed by emeritus professor Franklin Adams and a $5,000 cash award.
"I would have imagined there were far superior cases out there to be acknowledged," laughs Subramaniam, "so I was pleasantly surprised."
Kreisman and Subramaniam each have long records of teaching excellence. Kreisman's recent awards include, in 1999, the Chancellor's Teaching Scholar Award, the Owl Club Award for Best Organized Professor of First Year, the Department of Physiology's Outstanding Faculty Award, and the Owl Club Trophy for Best Teaching Department in the School of Medicine.
In 1998, he earned the Owl Club Award for Directing the Best Course of Freshman Year. Subramaniam received the Freeman School's highest teaching honor, the James T. Murphy Teaching Excellence Award, in 1998 and 1999 and has earned Wissner Awards, selected by students to honor the best teachers in the BSM and MBA programs, in 1995, 1996 and 2000.
Kreisman, who directs the human physiology course for first-year medical students and teaches cell physiology and neurophysiology in the graduate school, joined Tulane in 1971 after earning a PhD in physiology from the Medical College of Pennsylvania. His research has recently focused on understanding how hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen, affects the brain during a stroke and why some brain cells are more resistant to it than others.
In addition to his regular teaching load, Kreisman directs a summer physiology program that attracts medical students with deficiencies from across the country. What makes the program unique is that it involves not only the remedial course, but a diagnostic component that tests students' learning styles. While the remedial program evinces his interest in innovative pedagogy, Kriesman's methodology is reassuringly traditional.
"The lecture is still the most efficient way to get the most material to the most people," he says. "I think it's very important to organize the material. It helps the students compartmentalize the information and I think they can learn it better that way."
Subramaniam also defends the lecture method and emphasizes the importance of organization to make it work. "I'm very organized in the way I present my material and very structured," he says. "At the beginning of every class, I summarize what I did in the previous class and I tell them what we are going to do today. It takes maybe three minutes of my lecture, but it lets people who may have been asleep in the last class wake up."
Subramaniam joined Tulane in 1994 after graduating from the University of Texas with a PhD in finance. His research had dealt with issues of corporate finance, specifically what financing choices-such as equity issues-make the most sense for given companies. He also has studied how a company's financing choice affects the way it operates in the product market, and his research has been published in journals including Journal of Financial Economics, Management Science and Journal of Law, Economics and Organization.
Subramaniam says he tries to remain focused by reflecting on what he believes to be the two primary objectives of a teacher.
"One is course content, to teach what I have to teach in a very intuitive and interesting fashion," he explains. The second objective, he says, "is to instill in the students an element of critical thinking, so that they're able to see the interlinkages across the concepts that I've just taught them."
Not coincidentally, both Kreisman and Subramaniam share the belief that a friendly, approachable style yields tremendous benefits. Both are among the most popular faculty at their schools.
"In counseling students I really get to know them," Kreisman says. "I enjoy getting to know the students much better than if I just came in and gave a dozen lectures."
"I think being available generates an element of good will," agrees Subramaniam. "They feel that, 'Here is something I think I understand but I have a minor doubt. Let me get it clarified.' And if the prof is not available, their understanding is diminished to that degree. "None of what I'm doing is unique," Subramaniam adds. "You just have to do it consistently."
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