James Shaffrath

2008 Award for Excellence in Teaching

James Shaffrath agrees whole-heartedly with W.B. Yeats’ analogy: Education is not filling a bucket; it is lighting a fire. With a passion for teaching that students call “contagious” and “inspiring,” Shaffrath is renowned for engaging students’ attention by using topical examples from popular culture, employing novel visual aids (water bottles or children’s blocks), posing questions to involve students actively in discussion, and giving spontaneous physical demonstrations to illustrate concepts (from riding a cycle ergometer to turning back flips).

Shaffrath earned a B.S. in the individual major of Human Physical Performance, an M.A. in Physical Education with an Exercise Physiology emphasis, and a Doctor of Medicine degree, all from UC Davis. He served as a Housestaff Physician in the Department of Family Practice at UCD Medical Center for one year, before shifting to teaching.

Since 1989, Shaffrath has served as a Lecturer in Exercise Biology in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, teaching lecture, seminar, discussion and laboratory courses. According to a colleague, Shaffrath “shoulders the major instructional load for delivery of our exercise physiology courses.” Students often rate him as their favorite instructor at UCD. They report that he inspires them to delve deeply into class topics and makes them want to know more, as evidenced by the number of students following him around asking questions after class.

He works side by side with students in labs and constantly revises lab procedures to make them more effective. He offers copious individual attention, whether in his well-attended office hours or long personal conversations after class, ranging from discussions of students’ athletic training programs and career goals to their family health problems. He also serves as a mentor to graduate students, helping them to design and instrument their data collection and advising them to ensure the safety of human subjects.

In the Exercise Biology Department’s transition from the College of Letters and Science to the new College of Biological Sciences, Shaffrath took a leadership role in developing and offering the new curriculum. He has designed and instituted a number of new courses, including the popular General Education course Exercise Biology 10 and the capstone laboratory course for Exercise Biology majors (EXB 104L).

In addition to teaching his own classes, Shaffrath routinely guest lectures in other courses. He provides laboratory tours and other educational programs in the summer for gifted high school students (COSMOS) and the Agricultural Leadership Conference. He recently helped the UCD Fire Department to update their occupational fitness program. He often speaks off campus regarding health and fitness.

Congratulations, Jim!

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