Leslie LaConte, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean for Research for the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and Associate Professor of Basic Science Education at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
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.
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 LaConte, her approach to teaching focuses on tailoring the content to fit the student’s needs: “My top priority is to make sure each session's content is relevant to what the students' current needs are. Because I teach at VTCSOM, where our focus is on integration across the VTCSOM's four domains (basic science, clinical science, health systems science and interprofessionalism and research), I work hard to help students see how my sessions connect to those being taught by other faculty members. And finally, I always strive to engage students either with impromptu questions to probe understanding or pre-planned interactive audience response activities.”
LaConte’s colleague, Renee LeClair said, “When Leslie is on the schedule to deliver content, you are engaged; there is no ’shoe-shopping’ or Facebook-ing.” LeClair described LaConte’s delivery style as “clear and concise but leaves room to challenge some scientific dogmas.” She went on to add, “Cell biology is not the most exciting topic, nor is it easy to leverage clinical relevance, yet Leslie manages to overcome these hurdles, students, and faculty, gravitate towards her confidence.” LeClair has sat in on Laconte’s lectures for five years now and has learned something new about cell biology every time: “Leslie reminds all of us, there is always something to be learned. That is perhaps the best lesson for any student.”
Although LaConte focuses on making the classroom experience as meaningful as possible to her students, she says she spends most of her time “individually coaching her students as they navigate our four-year research curriculum.” LaConte remarked that “it’s these interactions that are particularly rewarding.” For example, LaConte described that “seeing a student successfully overcome the hurdles associated with moving a research study from idea to fruition (presentation at a meeting, publication) is a thrill.”
Former student, Natalia Sutherland, said this about LaConte: “Despite her busy schedule and job demands, she makes time for students who are struggling with their research. When a ‘research disaster’ strikes (i.e. your project isn't going anywhere, you're not recruiting patients as quickly as anticipated, or your project mentor decides to leave and you have to pivot after working on the same project for months), Dr. LaConte is always available to offer a kind, calm smile and a solution you didn't think was possible.”
Carolina Woods, another former student, described how LaConte played a role in her academic success: “Dr. LaConte had a significant impact on my medical school education. She is dedicated to her students and will fiercely protect their interests in support of their goals. When struggling with my project during my first year, Dr. LaConte took time to meet with me one on one to find the best mentor fit for me and my four-year project.”
LaConte provided the following advice for new college teachers: “The first year is the most daunting, but remember that every year is another chance to refine and innovate!”