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Emma Helm

Emma Helm, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor in the School of Animal Sciences

Excellence in Teaching Spotlight by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech

The Excellence in Teaching Spotlight, presented by the center to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.

Among the goals of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning are advancing experiential learning at Virginia Tech and improving student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. According to Helm, her approach to teaching focuses on two primary objectives: “The first of these is to excite students about the course material – whether that be through interesting examples or some (usually bad) jokes, I try to convey to students that I’m excited about teaching the material, so they should be excited to learn. My next goal is to help students understand the overall picture and make connections between topics. Incorporating things like low-stakes assignments and take-home exam components with open-ended questions gives students a greater understanding of the material in a lower stress environment. While that definitely makes grading more challenging for me, the benefit to student learning makes it worth it.” 

Helm’s former co-instructor, Katie Heiderscheit, discussed Helm’s ability to foster a warm and welcoming learning environment: “During our time teaching the labs, I was witness to Emma's incredible abilities to engage with students through active learning and help make students feel more comfortable working with our livestock species. Many of our students do not have previous livestock experience and working with such large animals can be extremely daunting, but Emma always patiently provided guidance and offered anecdotes of her experiences with various species. Now, Emma teaches our first two required courses for the APSC major. The sophomore-level animal anatomy and physiology course is particularly content-heavy, covering multiple organ systems throughout the semester. Her office hours are always populated with students as they seek further assistance with the material which she is more than happy to provide. Ultimately, Emma is the face of the APSC undergraduate teaching program in many ways as she provides the first steps towards learning about animals to all of our students. She does this with patience, friendliness, and a welcoming environment to all our students regardless of their previous experience with animals.”

Mitchell Dori, one of Helm’s former students, had this to say regarding Helm’s excellence in teaching: “Dr. Helm is an exceptional teacher, and I think all of her current and past students would agree that she deserves nothing less than respect and appreciation. Dr. Helm is approachable, engaging, a good listener, thoughtful, and positive when it comes to teaching.”

Helm provided the following advice for new college teachers: “Be approachable and kind! As a young(er) teacher instructing large lecture courses, it’s hard to find a line between fostering an environment of respect while also remaining inclusive and approachable. I’m quickly learning that being empathetic, flexible, and kind to students is much more rewarding than being a stickler for deadlines and documentation. Some structure is important, but you and your students will be much happier if you are willing to give them some grace.”