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Educator Spotlight

Each quarter, we feature Northwestern University educators doing innovative work in the classroom. These short interviews showcase the educators' educational journeys, signature styles, and how their teaching has been shaped by their work with the Searle Center.

Interview with Casey Ankeny

Casey Ankeny is Associate Professor of Instruction and Director of the MS Program in Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering.

Casey Ankeny
Casey Ankeny
Associate Professor of Instruction
McCormick School of Engineering

What sparked your interest in teaching?

My mom and grandma were both teachers. It’s in my genes! I began helping my peers study in high school. I enjoyed being helpful and distilling knowledge.

Would you tell us about how you have implemented innovative teaching in your classroom?

I am a proponent of active learning. To allow for more active learning, I flip most courses. Students listen to short lectures with pop-up questions outside of class. After a mini-lecture about muddiest points, we get into groups and work on problems.

How do you stay current with new developments in education and incorporate them into your teaching?

I am a part of a strong community of practice within engineering and the university. I perform engineering education research with colleagues. We present this work at the American Society of Engineering Education annually.

Have you learned anything recently that you would like to share with us?

I have had the opportunity to learn more about inclusive teaching practices. I have adopted ungrading, co-created rubrics, asset-based mapping, and peer review in my courses. I feel that the students’ comfort and the classroom environment are so important for supporting a growth mindset.

What are some of your main goals as an instructor related to student learning?

My goal is to foster creativity, curiosity, and the ability to translate skills—such as problem-solving skills—to other contexts.

What is a challenge you’ve encountered while teaching, and how did you address it?

I teach a course loaded with topics, and there was little time to practice solving problems and engage deeply with the material. This course is part of a sequence. I met with instructors of the other courses in the sequence. We worked to remove redundancies throughout the sequence allowing us time to use more active, innovative, and effective strategies.

Tell us about something you're working on that excites you.

My colleagues, Profs. Ken Gentry and David O’Neill; a senior undergraduate student, Philippa Eshun; and I are investigating the impact of a couple of inclusive strategies (peer review and co-created rubrics) in a laboratory course.  We are hoping to present our findings at TEACHx and the annual American Society of Engineering Education meeting.

What has been your favorite Searle Center experience?

I truly enjoy attending workshops through Searle. I have learned so much and met so many people. It is very motivating to be around others excited about teaching and learning.

Which educators (or educational experiences) have personally inspired you?

The first educator to inspire me is my mom! As a long-time educator committed to using evidenced-based pedagogy, my mom is always a great source of advice and strategies. Along the way, I have been inspired by my post-doc advisor, Steve Krause at Arizona State University. I learned how to assess my student-centered teaching and leverage the feedback to improve my approach. I am also inspired by many women-identifying, teaching-track faculty who have been kind enough to share their experience in navigating a fulfilling, productive career alongside the busyness of being a mom: Suzanne Olds, Ann Saterbak, Renata Ramos, Maria Oden, and others!

How do you balance the demands of teaching with your own professional development and self-care?

Luckily, the professional development opportunities I participate in often improve my teaching. Being reflective, curious about new strategies, open to change, and part of a vibrant teaching community has helped temper the demands of teaching. Becoming a mother alongside being an instructor has reinforced the importance of self-care. I pepper self-care in throughout the day –short walks, a few minutes of meditation, tea, etc. I also recognize that sometimes things will not be in balance and that’s okay! It helps take the pressure off from finding that perfect balance.

How do you unwind at the end of the day?

I enjoy reading books of all kinds with a mug of chamomile tea!