Students in Prof. Susan Braunhut’s Biology class are fortunate to talk shop; they share ideas and debate real life scenarios. An honorary University Professor, Braunhut embodies the teaching emphasized at UMass Lowell. “It is not just the pedagogy of a professor delivering a lecture,” she says. “I cover current events in my classes to try to provoke answers and discussion. I really talk to my students and they talk to me during class.”
Braunhut came to UMass Lowell from Harvard Medical School, where she was an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, nearly two decades ago. She instantly “fell in love” not only with the faculty, administration and students, but with the University’s unique faculty-student relationship. “What happens here is that I can really have a dialogue with students both in the classroom and out,” she says.
Faculty teach in all the lecture courses in the biology department. Teaching assistants, graduate students and postdoctoral students in the department assist in faculty directed laboratory courses but are not responsible for teaching. This puts the undergraduate and graduate students in direct contact with all the faculty. “I love the intimacy of the classroom situation here,” she says. “How we treat our student body is a priority and I think the students know that too, so there’s a lot of pride in the University.”
As a research professor, what has equally attracted Braunhut to UMass Lowell is its diverse research opportunities and emphasis on “breaking down the walls of traditional departments to encourage people to cross the aisle.” Engaging in interdisciplinary research is “more relevant, more interesting and more creative.” One example she gives is her laboratory’s partnership in the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN). Working on the safety of new nano materials generated at the CHN, Dr. Braunhut's lab works with engineers, health and environmental safety scientists and material scientists.
Braunhut’s main role these days is “emissary” for her lab. She does a lot of public speaking, making sure publications get out, and fund raising to keep things going for the diverse number of projects her laboratory staff and students have underway. Some of these projects include improving cancer therapy and limb regeneration. “None of these projects have priority in that I love all of them,” she says.