The Texas A&M Department of Biology currently features seven National Academies Education Fellows, including (from left) Dr. Richard Gomer, Dr. Kathryn Ryan, Dr. Andrew Tag, Dr. Asha Rao, Dr. Christopher Lee, Dr. Thomas McKnight and Dr. Wayne Versaw. (Credit: McKensie Daughtery.)


Texas A&M University biologists Dr. Asha Rao and Dr. Andrew Tag have been named National Academies Education Fellows in recognition of the critical role faculty development plays in quality undergraduate education.

Rao and Tag earned the distinction based on their participation in the 2018 Summer Institutes on Scientific Teaching, annually co-sponsored by the National Academies and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and designed to improve undergraduate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education from one of its most important vantage points -- the head of the class.

Each year, approximately 200 participants attend one of up to six regional Summer Institutes offered across the country. The program is designed to empower instructors to transform their STEM courses by teaching instructors how to best educate and engage their students using effective, inclusive teaching practices backed by evidence-based techniques.

"I participated in this program in 2009, and it totally transformed my teaching and the way I think about student learning," said Dr. Thomas D. McKnight, professor and head of the Texas A&M Department of Biology. "I was excited when Andy and Asha approached me about wanting to attend the Summer Institute. This was yet another of the many ways they have worked together to improve the educational experience and success for all of our introductory biology students, regardless of their major."

Rao earned her doctorate in biology from Texas A&M in 2002 and was both a postdoctoral researcher and assistant research scientist in the Texas A&M Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering prior to joining the Texas A&M Biology faculty in 2011. Her research is focused on agricultural plant science, environmental science and animal science. Rao served two years as a laboratory instructor before moving exclusively to the classroom as a lecturer, subsequently earning promotion to senior lecturer in 2017. She and McKnight are co-faculty advisors for BioFirst, a new learning community established last fall to provide academic success and service-related resources for first-generation biology freshmen during their critical first year at Texas A&M.

Like Rao, Tag also earned his doctorate in biology at Texas A&M in 2003 prior to joining the Texas A&M Biology faculty as a lecturer that same year. His research focuses on fungal biology. A 15-year classroom veteran of primarily lower-division instruction, Tag also has experience as a postdoctoral researcher and laboratory instructor. In addition to mentoring undergraduate researchers, he helped develop the department's capstone course, "Research Communication in the Life Sciences," required within the Biology Honors Program.

With the addition of Rao and Tag, Texas A&M Biology currently features seven National Academies Education Fellows, including McKnight and Dr. Wayne Versaw (2009), Dr. Richard Gomer and Dr. Kathryn Ryan (2013) and Dr. Christopher Lee (2016). Ryan also served as a Summer Institutes facilitator in 2014.

"Continuing participation in this program by so many of our faculty members is another indication of their strong commitment to teaching excellence," McKnight said. "Our seven Education Fellows not only apply scientific education concepts to their own courses, they are also effective ambassadors for spreading these evidence-based teaching practices throughout our department."

McKnight plans to send another team of professors to the institute next summer and strongly encourages other STEM-related departments and disciplines across the university to consider doing the same.

To learn more about the Summer Institutes on Scientific Teaching, visit https://www.summerinstitutes.org/about.

For additional information on undergraduate programs in the Texas A&M Department of Biology, go to http://www.bio.tamu.edu/index.php/undergrad/.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Thomas D. McKnight, (979) 845-3896 or mcknight@bio.tamu.edu

McKensie Daugherty

  • Dr. Asha Rao

  • Dr. Andrew Tag

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