PC Alumna Earns Prestigious Award
A Pearl City High School alumna (class of 1983) has earned the title of 2014 Indiana Professor of the Year.
Michelle Whaley (previously Michelle Serikaku), professor at University of Notre Dame’s Department of Biological Sciences, was awarded the distinction Nov. 20 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. by Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.
“I was extremely honored and grateful to all the mentors I had in the past,” said Whaley. “My parents (Jane and Michael Serikaku) and extended family were all great role models. I was raised among caring, lifelong learners who went out of their way to help others, and that is how I teach.”
She also made sure to thank her alma mater, Pearl City High School, for an education that prepared her for a rigorous college experience.
“There were teachers and advisers there, such as Marsha Lufkin and Mike Ishihara, who truly cared about students,” she added.
Whaley’s appointment marked the first time an educator from Notre Dame received the recognition. She started with the university in 1993 and went on to earn her doctorate degree in molecular genetics from the same institution.
Her work focused on the characterization of a gene “involved in Drosophila (fruit fly) visual system development that, when mutant, causes adult retinal degeneration.”
She explained that the award has validated her teaching style, which emphasizes development of critical thinking and research skills.
“I challenge them (my students) past their intellectual comfort zone, give them choices and independence, and then provide a high level of support,” she said. “I want to help them find their own voice and reach their full potential.”
Whaley currently teaches junior and senior research seminars, molecular genetics laboratory (a semester-long research project) and cell research (a two-credit independent study resource course) at Notre Dame.
She also is in charge of the summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in her department and has earned 16 years of support from the National Science Foundation for her REU summer program in molecular and cellular biology.
“I attribute my roots in Hawaii to my success because I share the aloha spirit with my students, and that has made all the difference,” she concluded. “It is a spirit that is truly powerful.”
Whaley also has received two Joyce Awards for Teaching Excellence and three separate Kaneb Teaching Awards.