Nov 102011
 
Authors: Colleen Canty

A lengthy list of staggering characteristics was the only way CSU’s Dr. Richard Israel could describe health and exercise science professor Matt Hickey.

“Integrity, honesty, quality, excellence, strong work ethic,” said Israel, department head for health and exercise science.

Such qualities recently earned Hickey, who has been at CSU for more than 10 years, the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU) Undergraduate Research Mentor Award.

The award, which will be presented to Hickey this weekend in San Francisco, recognizes a human and exercise science faculty member who has shown outstanding achievement with regards to undergraduate research mentoring.

“The beauty of the award is how it deals with encouraging undergrad students into a mentored research setting,” Hickey said. “The students have to have some of their own ‘get up and go’ attitude, but we (professors) have to be approachable.”

Although the number of nominated professors considered for the award is unknown, with nearly 220 universities across the nation involved with the APLU, such a distinguished achievement was not flippantly awarded, Israel said.

“One can easily see from his resume how engaged he was in not only academics, but also service to the school and community,” he said. “They couldn’t have done better no matter what the competition was.”

As department head, Israel sifts through thousands of student course surveys; none of Hickey’s, he said, have ever been negative. According to Israel, students know when they’re in the presence of something important, and many name Hickey as “the best professor they’ve encountered at CSU.”

“He is laid back, funny and his classes are genuinely enjoyable,” said Rachael Cooper, a senior health and exercise science major. “But he also makes some of the hardest tests I’ve taken.”

In a single 50-minute lecture, students and teachers may run into “sterile” moments, according to Hickey, when the professor finds himself or herself merely talking at the students. While he can’t elude the typically rigid lecture structure entirely, he said he consciously strives to make classes more “conversational,” many times pushing tentative exam dates back if the class wishes to expand on one particular topic.

“A 16-week conversation is much better than a 16-week monologue,” Hickey said. “My syllabus may frustrate some, but the flexibility works for me.”

This type of student engagement is a priority for Hickey, as reflected in the way he conducts class. Rather than lecturing with slides while students take notes, he consistently breaks classes up into small groups for discussion and, to illustrate his points better, will even tell stories.

“He is incredible at relating what we are doing to real-life situations,” Cooper said. “Story illustrations are always really helpful when you’re talking scientifically.”

Hickey wishes to eliminate stagnant memorization, an element present in some college courses, and replace it with critical application. According to him, that’s what “integrative physiology” is all about.

“As a department, we like to emphasize the ‘integrative’ element to science,” he said. “I want students to be able to connect the dots; my tests will never be all Scantron.”

Such a teaching style has not only won the respect and admiration of his students, but professors across campus in departments ranging from math to philosophy also look to Hickey as a model professor.

“He is incredibly bright –– one of the brightest at CSU,” said philosophy professor Bernard Rollin, who is one of CSU’s 31 distinguished professors. “He’s unbelievably qualified, knows how to communicate with students, and the university is lucky to have him.”

Hickey feels “blessed and fortunate to have such talented colleagues” and students who highly respect him, but Israel believes Hickey is simply “the full professor.”

Collegian writer Colleen Canty can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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