Metcalf Award Winner Wayne LaMorte
Inspiring students to solve real-world health problems
Should we ban smoking in public places? Are flu shots a good idea? In real life, people disagree on these questions, and real-world disagreements are the hook with which Wayne LaMorte catches students’ interest in his School of Public Health epidemiology classes. Because of LaMorte, one student wrote the Metcalf Awards selection committee, “I now want to work in the public health sector as a physician.”
Another gave what some might consider the highest possible praise, calling LaMorte (GRS’85, SPH’94), an SPH professor of epidemiology and a School of Medicine professor of surgery and public health, “the only professor I know who has kept the entire class awake at 8 a.m.!”
The Metcalf Cup and Prize and the Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching are the University’s highest teaching honors. The Metcalf committee has acknowledged LaMorte’s inspirational teaching with a 2011 Metcalf Award. The award citation lauds him for stressing public health’s “complexity and the interplay of biology and social conditions, often choosing controversial issues that have no ‘right’ solution. His teaching is enriched by interactive case-based scenarios, videos, and online exercises with feedback.”
For example, LaMorte says, smoking bans rest on assertions that brief exposure to secondhand smoke can be harmful. So he shares a Whitman’s sampler of studies, pro and con, with his students. He’ll assign an exercise in which the students must develop their own conclusions and defend them. “The point of the exercise is not for me to tell them what to think or to convince them that what I believe is correct,” he says. “The point is to help them to develop the critical thinking skills and a habit of evidence-based decision-making.”
“The undergraduate and graduate students I teach are remarkable for their commitment to improving health,” adds LaMorte. “I feel honored to play a role in their education, and to receive the Metcalf Award for this has a very special meaning to me.”
His instructional method has evolved, he says: “When I first started teaching, I was overly focused on what I was saying in the classroom. As I became more skilled and more comfortable with teaching, my classroom became more student-focused. I was interested in what was going on out there. Did they look bored? Engaged? Intent? Puzzled? Were they asking me questions? Did their questions indicate confusion, or were they insightful questions that pushed us to the next level?”
Reading these cues pushed his teaching to the next level, he says, sometimes by simply asking his students to take pen and paper and work through a problem that he gives them.
A medical polymath, LaMorte trained as a surgeon—he earned an MD from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey—but he also has a doctorate in biochemistry and a master’s in epidemiology and biostatistics. He began his BU career as a research associate in 1979.
The Metcalf awards date to 1973 and are funded by a gift from the late BU professor and Board of Trustees chairman emeritus Arthur G. B. Metcalf (SED’35, Hon.’74). The Metcalf Cup and Prize winner receives $10,000, the Metcalf Award winners $5,000 each. A University committee selects winners based on nominees’ statements of teaching philosophy, supporting letters from colleagues and students, and classroom observations of the teachers. The Metcalf honors are presented at Commencement.
Rich Barlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments