January 2020: Renee LeClair
Assistant professor and chair of Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Department of Basic Science Education
2020 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech
The award, 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.
“Being recognized for my teaching efforts is humbling,” LeClair said. “There are excellent educators across the VT campus innovating in their own ways and I’m excited to be a part of this.”
The pillars of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning include advancing experiential learning at Virginia Tech and improving student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. LeClair prioritizes student engagement in her courses, spending time on the material that learners identify as most challenging. “Students are capable of acquiring basic understandings of concepts, and I perceive my role in the classroom is to generate an opportunity for application,” LeClair said.
LeClair is dedicated to equipping students with knowledge before they even enter her classroom. “To engage students, they need to be prepared,” LeClair said. “I spend time generating individualized resources that are specifically reflective of the material they need to know before engaging in class.”
Kathryn Thompson, associate professor of biochemistry and nutrition and LeClair’s teaching mentor, speaks highly of her student-centered approach to experiential learning. “Reneé teaches her students to apply what they have learned to solve real clinical problems,” Thompson said. “She has high expectations for her students and inspires them to become independent learners. Her methods of integrating clinical and biomedical sciences motivate medical students and promote rigorous critical thinking.”
Thompson also highlighted LeClair’s commitment to helping other faculty members advance their teaching and learning practices. “[Reneé’s] influence extends beyond her students as she has been able to breakdown her educational methods into a systematic process that she has shared with other educators,” Thompson said. “Her energy, positive attitude, and creativity have helped many educators cross the chasm from traditional lectures to more integrative, active learning presentations.”
LeClair cites her work with other faculty as some of her most meaningful experiences as a teacher. Through team teaching, she has deepened her conceptual expertise and broadened her understanding of the learning experience. “I enjoy being a part of the learning process rather than dictating the learning process,” LeClair said.
Dan Griffin, a student in the school of medicine, said that LeClair is well-known for engaging her students in class. “I’m always excited when I see Dr. LeClair’s name on our class schedule, because I know that if I prepare for her session, then I can expect a thoughtful, clinically-applicable workshop that helps to reinforce my learning in a way that no lecture ever has,” Griffin said.
Jennifer Cleveland, assistant professor in the Department of Basic Science Education, also commended LeClair’s enthusiasm for developing confident and motivated thinkers. “With high expectations and a supportive environment, Dr. LeClair truly embodies VTCSOM’s mission of creating lifelong learners,” Cleveland said.
LeClair’s advice to new faculty reflects her commitment to practical and effective teaching. “Don’t start delivering in a teaching style you don’t want to pursue long term,” LeClair said. “Active classroom development isn’t harder, it’s just different, and you will find that putting the time in early takes the strain out of repeated lectures.”