Faculty Friday Spotlight: Dr. Mike Michel

From surveying mate recognition of isopod crustaceans in the Antarctic to studying lobster olfactory receptor cells in Florida, Dr. Mike Michel has traveled the world in pursuit of the biological sciences. Those experiences have shaped a life as colorful and vibrant as the tropical t-shirts he so often sports around AUC’s campus. We sit down with AUC’s Professor of Physiology to hear more about his career and his favorite parts of teaching in Sint Maarten.

Describe an experience that helped form you as an educator.

During my later years at the University of Utah, School of Medicine I served as a co-director for the Brain and Behavior and Circulation, Respiration and Regulation Blocks.  I had an opportunity to work with clinician partners to develop and implement a combined 20 weeks of the medical sciences curriculum the students experienced in their first two years of medical school while coordinating our efforts with the efforts of the co-directors of the other Blocks.  The opportunity to work with medical science and clinician educators passionate about innovation and student outcomes was inspiring.  The opportunity to sit in on lectures delivered by outstanding faculty contributed to my formation as an educator.

How did you get interested in curriculum in addition to your focus on your subject area?

Mastery of subject areas is critical for student success but it is only through the integration of subject areas that students truly learn to master the art and science of medicine.  Through the process of curriculum change we as a faculty have the opportunity to provide earlier and richer opportunities for students to experience integration.  Students exposed to the physiology content that I teach in an environment where they immediately see its application to pathology, pharmacology and clinical practice are much more likely to remember.

How did you become convinced that you should come to AUC, or what attracted you to AUC?

A number of factors contributed to my decision to move to AUC.  After several years of serving in a co-director capacity at Utah I began to realize that job was transitioning from curriculum development and implementation to curriculum management.  My opportunities to directly contribute to content delivery were becoming more limited.  The move to AUC allowed me to focus exclusively on content development and delivery.  The fact that a colleague from Utah, Dr. Mary Lucero, had already accepted a position at AUC made the decision to relocate easier.

What is your favorite thing about teaching at AUC?

Three intakes a year means teaching renal and endocrine physiology three times a year.  This provides more opportunities to try different approaches to specific content areas to see what works best.  The method of delivery is able to evolve much more quickly.  Of course, delivery is meaningless if it isn’t received and understood.  Working with individual students allows the on the fly revision of educational approaches that best communicate the many concepts involved in physiological processes.  It wonderful to see the light bulb come on when a student gets it.  Often the strategy that helps individual students get a concept can then be taken back into the classroom.

What are some of your favorite things about Sint Maarten?

The best thing about the island are its people.  Unlike much of the rest of the world on Sint Maarten it is the rare exception when you’re not greeted with “morning, morning” or “okay, okay”.  I’ve lived here for 6 years now (excluding an Irma inspired trip across the pond) and purchased my home nearly 5 years ago which helped integrate me in the community.  Over the years I’ve had opportunities to interact with many people and I find them to be genuine and caring.   This place is a true melting pot and the cultural diversity is refreshing.

What is your role on the Curriculum Committee, and what does that group do to evolve/improve the curriculum at AUC?

For many years I served as a member of the curriculum committee representing the Department of Neuroscience and Physiology.  Last year at about this time I was elected to chair the Medical Sciences Subcommittee.  The major initiative the committee is currently working on is a content alignment project.  The curriculum committee hopes to engage all faculty members to participate in determining how our discipline based courses might best be redistributed into an organ system format curriculum.  Content alignment is a first step in the process of integration. Over the next several months the committee hopes to have the alignment complete and begin to access the feasibility of implementing an aligned curriculum.  If successful the next few years will be challenging but rewarding if we succeed.

Typically you teach students who are in their third semester. What do you observe about them at that time in the curriculum? How do you help?

The best students understand from the beginning that they’ll have to put all the pieces together.  By the third semester the majority of the students are realizing that this task is in front of them and some come seeking strategies.  It may be as simple as pointing them to question banks and critical resources.  For others the answer may be to pare down the number of resources being used.   I particularly like when fourth and fifth semester students drop in for a brief refresher on a topic I’ve covered because they’re now considered it again from a different perspective.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Walking and swimming.  My dog, Whimbley, and I walk from home to end of Mullet Bay every morning and evening.  Conditions permitting I let him off the leash and enjoy swimming a “full Mullet” in the morning.  Green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, octopi, squid, and a wide range of tropical fish may await me on any given day.  It’s a floating meditation.  During evening walks there is nothing better than a “green flash” sunset.  Scuba diving, sailing and listening to live music are some of the other activities I enjoy.

How would you like for students to describe you years from now? 

The old goat was fair.