Professor Hopi Hoekstra was recently named a Harvard College Professor in recognition of her “distinguished contributions to undergraduate teaching.” The Professorships are five-year appointments that provide support for professional development, research or scholarly activities, and a semester of paid leave or summer salary.
Dean Michael D. Smith of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) said Hoekstra and four other faculty members each bring “a passion for their chosen field to the classroom that inspires their students. It’s the opportunity to learn from faculty like these that makes the Harvard College experience so unique.”
The new appointment adds to Hoekstra’s roster of titles. She is Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology; Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology; and Curator of Mammals, as well as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. She uses wild mice in the field and the laboratory as a model to discover the molecular basis of adaptation to novel selective pressures — from morphological to behavioral traits.
Talking to the Harvard Gazette, Hoekstra spoke of the satisfaction in illuminating new subjects and ideas for her students, and getting — or keeping — them interested in science:
“I love to start lectures with a story — sometimes personal, sometimes historical, sometimes mysterious — to try to draw students into the material,” she said. “Then the goal is to keep them engaged by making them think, not just listen, even in a large lecture course.
“After every lecture, I write down everything that I could improve the next year, the concepts that students found the most difficult, the examples that weren’t crystal clear,” she continued. “I never feel like I’ve got it perfect; I’m really hard on myself. Thus, needless to say, I’m surprised and thrilled. I love teaching, especially aspiring young scientists, so this is really special.”
Though being named a College professor recognizes her excellence in the classroom, Hoekstra said she won’t rest on her laurels, and plans to use the additional support to continue to improve her teaching.
“Harvard professors are well recognized as leaders in scholarship and research, but we have all chosen to come to an institution where our job is to excel at both research and teaching,” she said. “It’s a difficult balance, but I learn so much from teaching that I can’t imagine one without the other.
“I think this recognition will inspire me to do more — both improving my teaching in the classroom and remaining dedicated to teaching outside the classroom — from implementing new creative approaches in lecturing to providing undergraduates with hands-on research opportunities in my lab. I think many of us can point to a particular teacher or research experience that inspired us and influenced our career path. I want to pay that forward.”
Read more in the Harvard Gazette