Meaningful Discussion Leads to Excellence in the Classroom for Biology Lecturer

Michael Yard, M.S.
Lecturer, Biology, School of Science 
2010 Indiana University Trustees Teaching Awardee

It’s rare for a retired U.S. Army colonel to undertake a second career teaching human anatomy to undergraduates considering careers in allied health, nursing or medicine, but that’s exactly what Michael Yard, M.S. has been doing at the School of Science at IUPUI for the past five years. And for the past three years he has also led the popular Health Professions Program of the Themed Learning Community, part a new educational model that helps students expand their horizons beyond individual classes.

He’s not new to the IUPUI campus. In fact in some ways he has never left since, as a newly minted 18-year-old army reservist, he enrolled as an IUPUI freshman, receiving a degree in biology and chemistry from the School of Science in 1985. During a military career that allowed him to return to IUPUI to successfully pursue a master’s degree in neuroanatomy from the IU School of Medicine, he served as an infantry officer, an intelligence officer and a medical officer.

“During my thirty years in the military, I worked with tens of thousand of people of all ages and acquired a lot of knowledge about what makes people tick and especially about what makes them learn and subsequently perform at a high level. In my experience, generating meaningful discussion, especially in laboratory settings, and demonstrating how ‘staying the course’ can pay off, often leads to excellence in the classroom. It also helps each of us examine setbacks, then to refocus and succeed,” said Yard, who commanded doctors and lawyers before he instructed freshmen and sophomores.

Michael Yard His teaching philosophy can be summed up in five words, “ there are no wrong questions.” Although his anatomy class is one of the School of Science’s largest, he says that by week three he knows the names of everyone in his class and interacts with each of them. That’s essential, he says, to the meaningful discussions that help his students master difficult material as they study the complexity of the human body.

In his Health Professions Themed Learning Community Yard works with about two dozen students who think that healthcare careers may be for them. As they consider future options during this decision-making time, he helps each student explore opportunities in the field through a variety of learning experiences including visits to healthcare facilities and participation in volunteer activities.

“These students learn a lot about healthcare but they learn even more about themselves. With exposure to sophisticated labs, patient care and even autopsies, they may come to the realization that they don’t really like what they thought they wanted to do and would rather major in engineering or English; that they were exactly right about what they want to do or they may even be able to narrow it down to yes, I would like to work directly with patients -- especially older adults, or individuals with disabilities or people with limited access to dental care. ”

Yard received an Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award in 2010, a testament to his ability to convey material in a way that both instructs and inspires hundreds of students each semester. “It may take me three or four months to turn students on to anatomy or forensic science, but my hope is that no matter what they end up doing, their interest in science will last a lifetime.”