14 School of Biomedical Sciences members among recipients of Learner and Faculty Awards for Teaching Innovation

Visionary and innovative. Both of these words aptly describe the inspiring winners of this year’s Learner and Faculty Awards for Teaching Innovation. The awards, part of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences’ (FMHS) ongoing Proud to Teach campaign, aim to recognize innovative teaching strategies that are learning- and learner-focused. This year, 14 members of the School of Biomedical Sciences (SBMS) community, including former student Adam Hassan, 11 student members of the iGEM team, and faculty members Mikaela Stiver and Terry Hébert, were selected as award recipients.

Congratulations to all the SBMS awardees, who you can read more about below! 


Forging a place for synthetic biology (Learners) 

McGill’s iGEM team, a group of undergraduate students representing multiple faculties across the University, came together in 2021 to begin tackling an interdisciplinary synthetic biology project. Fast forwarding a year, their project investigating a proactive probiotic to lower cholesterol, known as CoBiota, earned them a top ten spot in the worldwide iGEM competition, held in Paris in October 2022. 

Dedicated to furthering the advancement of synthetic biology education and research here at McGill, in addition to continuing their CoBiota research, the iGEM team also took the initiative of developing outreach programs. After noticing an increasing demand from their peers to join McGill’s iGEM chapter, the team decided to create the SynBio Collective, an extracurricular club dedicated to synthetic biology where students learn from one another and share ideas and techniques. The team is also in talks with university administrators to develop a new course, MIMM/PHAR/BIOT 501: Introduction to Synthetic Biology. 



The 2022 team was composed of 17 undergraduate students from a range of health and basic science disciplines; 11 of the members were from the SBMS (identified by an asterisk (*)). 

  • Jonathan Cheng (Biochemistry)*  

  • Elliott Cole (Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering) *  

  • Rylan Donohoe (Math and Computer Science)  

  • Mysha Ibnat (Microbiology and Immunology) *  

  • Hyerin Kim (Biochemistry) *  

  • Jesse Lee (Biochemistry) *  

  • Anna Li (Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering) *  

  • Huilin Liang (Biology and Computer Science)  

  • Stephen Lu (Biology and Computer Science)  

  • Emily Martin (Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering) *  

  • Albert Nitu (Neuroscience)  

  • Chandler Ochs (Biology and Computer Science)  

  • Jade Tong (Biochemistry)*  

  • Dan Voicu (Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering) *  

  • Hanwen Wang (Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering)*  

  • Huanyi Zhang (Biochemistry)*  

  • Jessica Zhu (Computer Science) 


Integrating games in anatomy education (Faculty)

Mikaela Stiver, PhD, a Faculty Lecturer at the Division of Anatomical Sciences, Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology, won the award for integrating gamification and serious games, a term used to describe gaming in the context of learning, into the “ANAT 323 Clinical Neuroanatomy” course. Among her innovations, Mikaela used Pokémon-inspired neuroanatomy trading cards to teach the 12 cranial nerves and adapted popular games like HedBanz and Kahoot! to advance learning. 

Game integration is no stranger to the learning environment. A collaborative study led by researchers at Utrecht University and Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology in 2013, found that games were more effective than traditional instruction in terms of learning and retention. 

“Having been entrusted with a content-heavy course like Clinical Neuroanatomy, I saw the perfect opportunity to apply the principles of game-based learning to mitigate ‘neuro-phobia’, increase motivation, and hopefully rekindle a genuine enjoyment for learning in my students,” Mikaela explained to Health e-News. 


Seeing a gap and filling it: Students and profs working together to build a new program (Faculty and learners)

In 2018, Terry Hébert, PhD, Assistant Dean, Biomedical Sciences Education and Professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, along with a team of basic science education champions, identified the need to foster greater opportunities for interdisciplinary education across the biomedical science departments. Not too long after, two ambitious McGill students, Vivienne Tam, who was a PhD candidate in Materials Engineering at the time, and Christina Popescu, an MSc student in Neuroscience at the time, approached Prof. Hébert with a request for support to build a new interdisciplinary program with a focus on translational science. The group formed a student committee and was later joined by Adam Hassan, a PhD candidate at the time in Microbiology and Immunology at the time, and Charlotte Ouimet, an MSc student at the time in Experimental Medicine with a specialization in Bioethics. The group of inter-faculty students became pivotal to the development of the program.  

The Graduate Certificate in Translational Biomedical Science Research, offered by the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, was officially approved by the McGill Senate in May 2022. The first cohort of students started in the Winter 2023 semester. The goal of the program is to enrich basic science training through a mix of medical-style coursework crafted for graduate students, an immersive clinical experience, and engagement with the broader translational network at McGill.  

“Silos are killing us,” Professor Hébert explained. The overarching concern that ultimately ignited this project is that members of the university felt as though science graduate students are not adequately trained to translate their research nor are they provided with the infrastructure to facilitate interdisciplinary communication, particularly between clinicians, clinician-scientists and scientists. 

While biomedical research advances at an ever-increasing pace, effectively translating findings into tangible human health improvements remains a challenge. “Most programs are currently geared towards medical doctors, early-career principal investigators and post-doctoral researchers. In contrast, few universities provide programs designed for graduate students that could be completed alongside their doctoral studies. We believe that as one of the leading universities in Canada, McGill University is uniquely positioned to pioneer such a program,” noted Prof. Hébert.

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