Neuroscientist is Devoted to Building Strong Minds
Knowing How the Brain Works Gives Dr. Michael Kilgard Unique Insight
Aug. 21, 2009
UT Dallas neuroscientist Dr. Michael Kilgard understands the science behind teaching.
“Neuroscience research demonstrates beyond any doubt that the brain is malleable and can benefit greatly from focused interventions,” he said. “The important thing for educators to remember is that teachers change brains every day.”
During his 10 years at UT Dallas, Kilgard’s teaching style has not only captured the attention of his students but also caught the attention of colleagues and the UT System Board of Regents.
Kilgard is one of only 38 faculty members across the nine UT System academic institutions to be named a recipient of the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award for tenured faculty. The award is accompanied by at $30,000 stipend.
As one of the most cited researchers in the world on neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change, Kilgard said he takes seriously his job to positively change his students’ brains and lives.
“The brain rewires itself in response to every meaningful experience. Like students, neurons simply ignore passive stimulation. I am willing to use every tool at my disposal to motivate my students, because nothing I say will stick without their active attention.
This award reaffirms my experience that interactions with students outside of class are highly valued at UT Dallas and critical to student success. I hope the awards encourage more experimentation with alternative course structures throughout the UT System,” Kilgard added.
In addition to the UT System’s newest teaching honor, Kilgard is a past recipient of the Chancellor’s Council Outstanding Teaching Award from the UT System, as well as the School of Behavioral and Brain Science’s Teacher of the Year award.
He teaches Developmental Neurobiology, Cellular Neuroscience, Behavioral Neuroscience and advanced upper division conference courses to neuroscience majors. Despite the difficulty level of his courses, his student reviews are consistently high, with an average instructor rating of 4.36 out of 5 since 2000.
Kilgard also serves as a faculty adviser for the UT Dallas Academic Engagement Program and the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program.
“We are extremely proud of the recognition that Michael Kilgard has received from the University of Texas Board of Regents for his outstanding instructional contributions,” said Dr. Bert Moore, dean of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “He has excited countless students about the field of neuroscience through his lectures and mentoring, and he truly exemplifies our institutional aspirations for student training.”
As a teacher and adviser, Kilgard draws inspiration from a variety of sources: his mother, who spent 25 years as a master teacher in the Houston Independent School District, the positive mentoring he received in research labs in high school and college, and the small group education method used in Boy Scout programs.
He employs a number of tactics to keep his students engaged. He takes them on trips to the Dallas Aquarium and for walks in the creek behind his house to explain ecology in a natural setting. He also creates opportunities for students to get involved in his lab.
More than 120 undergraduates have spent at least one semester doing research in his lab. Many are active in the lab during all four years of their undergraduate experience. “Longevity increases the opportunity for students to make major contributions to original research,” said Kilgard.
His students are clearly making meaningful contributions. Ten different undergraduates are authors on his peer-reviewed papers, and undergraduates are included as authors on 37 of his presentations at international meetings. While this experience is rare for most undergraduates around the country, Kilgard has the confidence in his students to give them a greater level of responsibility.
One student, Christopher Lazarus, explained why Kilgard is so effective.
“There is an energy around Dr. Kilgard that can be felt when he enters the room; it makes me want to pay attention, want to listen,” he said. “He is a phenomenal teacher, the best I have had in 15 years of school, 43 seasons of sports and 12 years of scouting. He has stirred up a passion in me I thought lost forever.”
Kilgard earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Michael Kilgard is an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Many of his students are active in the lab during all four years of their undergraduate experience.
Regents’ Teaching Awards