Erwin Bautista

2007 Award for Excellence in Teaching

Most students learn physiology by being bombarded with information, so initially Erwin Bautista imitated this method. But he soon realized that his students were becoming adept at memorizing facts and jargon, without making connections or mastering the concepts that make them significant. With the best intentions, he realized, he had been “facilitating poor learning habits!”

Bautista earned his Ph.D. in Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior (NPB) at UC Davis in 2001, with dissertation research on the mechanisms of energy balance homeostasis—more specifically, the roles of uncoupling proteins and brain neuropeptides in fat deposition. His post-doctoral research has investigated the hindbrain’s role in regulating food intake, by quantifying responses of brain stem neurons to glucose, insulin, and leptin. Bautista has presented posters on his research at Experimental Biology meetings, published abstracts in FASEB Journal, and published an article in the Journal of Neurochemistry.

Bautista began his teaching career in NPB as a TA in a Neurobiology lecture course, then led sections of Cellular Biology and Systemic Biology labs. Since 2001 Bautista has taught an impressive array of NPB courses: Gastrointestinal Physiology, Cellular Physiology Lab, Systemic Physiology Lab, Cell Physiology & Neurobiology, Human Physiology, and Comparative Organology. His versatility is even more remarkable considering the range of formats, from large lecture General Education classes (500 students) to sophisticated lab courses and upper division specialty courses for NPB majors.

Bautista’s effectiveness as a teacher derives from his understanding of his students’ learning processes and their difficulties in mastering concepts. Aiming to create an environment that emphasizes mastery of concepts, without discouraging memorization of facts, first, he explains the big picture and teaches principles by applying them to specific problems. To explain complex processes and to foster critical thinking, he uses clinical examples of disease states, such as Cystic Fibrosis to clarify cell transport, or he compares similar functions across organisms, such as digestive processes in cows and humans.

Bautista employs varied and constantly changing pedagogical tools to better meet students’ needs. Knowing that visual images enhance students’ understanding and retention of concepts, Bautista uses creative board work to complement his verbal explanations. He also relies on analogies, which he has learned must be accurate but sparingly used, to avoid encouraging students' counterproductive habits of oversimplifying physiologic processes as “like an assembly line.” He uses computer modules and encourages students to take advantage of recorded lectures and notes posted to course websites.

Described as “virtually indispensable to the teaching program” in NPB, Bautista has expanded the lower division offerings for non-majors. He has developed and taught two innovative courses that teach basic physiological principles by focusing on socially important issues: Human Aging and Drug Addiction and Abuse. He has recently taken the lead in revising the laboratory exercises for Systemic Physiology to adapt to new equipment.

His students appreciate his vast knowledge and his ability to explain complex theories and concepts in clear and engaging ways: they consistently portray him as well-organized, very informative, and entertaining, with a good sense of humor. His colleagues admire how he engages and motivates students and sometimes sit in on his lectures to enjoy his board work and skillful development of physiological concepts and relationships. One freshman explains how “Dr. Bautista’s great enthusiasm” inspired him to think about “scientific matters, both directly and indirectly related to the course materials, outside of class” and to instigate discussions after class or in office hours. In 1997 Bautista received an Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award; in 2006 he was a finalist for this award.

Congratulations, Erwin!

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