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Metcalf Award Winner Wayne LaMorte

Inspiring students to solve real-world health problems

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Wayne LaMorte won a Metcalf Award by introducing students to debated issues in public health. Photo by Vernon Doucette

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 barlowr@bu.edu.

9 Comments

9 Comments on Metcalf Award Winner Wayne LaMorte

  • Anonymous on 05.12.2011 at 6:21 am

    Congratulations to Professor LaMorte!!!! He is definitely an excellent professor both in terms of teaching in the classroom and being very approachable outside of the classroom.

  • Anonymous on 05.12.2011 at 7:36 am

    Praise for the losers

    This is great prize and the recipients have all been wonderful teachers and mentors. Unfortunately BU has many great teachers who will never win this prize. Prizes are great but perhaps today we should take a moment to simply thank those who trained us with all their heart and soul even though they did not got any special prize for their effort.

    Perhaps today we should also take a moment to reflect on the purpose of BU as an educational institution and how the quest for PHS funds and the need to publish or perish destracts many would be great “teachers” from that inherent goal. Being a great mentor and teacher is not always stressed in the modern academic environment where getting funding for research and publishing papers are typically rewarded with promotions and tenure far more often than is excellence in teaching. It is easy to forget this primary mission of the institution and difficult to hire the best teachers when the entire hiring and promotion process often revolves around attracting new people based solely on who can bring in the most grant money. Fortunately a handful of our young up and coming professors can do both well. And while they may not have gotten a prize today their commitment to the under appreciated task of teaching should be commended toady.

    So I say thanks to all the great people at BU who helped train little ol’ me when no one important was looking or handing out accolades for it. You’re the best!!

  • Beans on 05.12.2011 at 8:41 am

    An Impressive Academic

    I have had Professor Lamorte in class and not only is he extremely intelligent, he has a gift for integrating different methods of online, electronic, and classroom based teaching methods into his classes. Not only this, but he is a vocal advocate for students, and is active in mentoring them, finding them employment opportunities, internships, and just being a good friend. He is down to earth, but keeps a real-world perspective, traits that make an academic endearing, and admired by all.

  • Anonymous on 05.12.2011 at 8:52 am

    LaMorte is Awesome

    I have had the honor of working with Dr. LaMorte and of having him as my advisor. He is perhaps, the most dedicated professor in the school of public health. He deserves this award and I am glad to say that I know him. Even more, I am deeply honored to be graduating the day he receives this award.

  • Anonymous on 05.12.2011 at 9:07 am

    Best professor I ever had during my undergraduate years. Fantastic lecturer and mentor. Compassionate, down-to-earth, and funny. Nowadays, I encounter many professors who would rather be doing research full-time and not teaching a room full of undergrads at 8 am. LaMorte is the last of dying breed of college professors who are here because they are legitimately interested in teaching their students.

  • Anonymous on 05.12.2011 at 1:34 pm

    he paints real good too.

  • sid mcdonough on 05.12.2011 at 3:21 pm

    polymath

    he’s areal good painter too, especially closets and decks.

  • Anonymous on 05.12.2011 at 8:56 pm

    Congratulations!

    Professor LaMorte taught an Epidemiology class for my MET MS in Health Communications – it was by far one of the most interesting and dynamic classes – I was hooked by the second week! Congratulations Professor LaMorte!

  • Anonymous on 05.27.2011 at 10:07 am

    Professor Lamorte is an excellent teacher. I also love his sense of humor, openness to different perspectives, and innovative mindset. We need more professors like him.

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