William Lehman, PhD, and Jeffrey Browning, PhD, Receive 2024 GMS Educator of the Year Awards

Each year, the Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine honors two Graduate Medical Sciences faculty who deliver exceptional education to graduate students in masters and doctoral education. These awards are based on recommendations from across the GMS programs.

This year, we are thrilled to share that GMS has awarded William Lehman, PhD, and Jeffrey Browning, PhD, with the 2024 Educator of the Year awards. Read more about Dr. Lehman and Dr. Browning below!

William Lehman, PhD

Professor and Vice Chair of Pharmacology, Physiology & Biophysics

Lehman, recognized as the GMS Educator of the Year for master’s programs, has worked at BU since 1973. His research focuses on the regulation of muscle contraction, performing structural studies on the assembly and function of actin-containing thin filaments in muscle and non-muscle cells.

Within GMS, Lehman works particularly closely with the Master of Science in Oral Health Sciences (OHS) program as director of its team-taught physiology course. Lehman’s course lectures focus on muscle and gastrointestinal physiology, as well as endocrinology. He also teaches within the Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MAMS) physiology course and provides guidance to the directors of the program.

Lehman, who thinks of himself “as a researcher primarily,” said he was surprised and gratified to receive this year’s award recognition.

“I think of my teaching both as a service and a vital responsibility as a faculty member,” he said. “It’s a very important service.”

Lehman believes that education should be both challenging and entertaining. In his lectures, he tries to interject personal stories and humor to keep students engaged in the course content.

“My role as an educator is partly advertising for the subject matter, so that [the students] want to learn, not just that they have to learn, the material,” Lehman said.

For Lehman, one of the most rewarding parts of being an educator is watching how students develop during the course. In addition to striving for the most effective delivery of course content, Lehman often works with students to develop good study habits, time management skills, and an overall grasp of the content.

“You have a sense of personal reward when you see students who may be struggling in the course, and finally, [the material] catches, and they’re able to conceptualize difficult subjects,” Lehman said. “That’s very rewarding and impressive.”

To an important extent, Lehman’s teaching philosophy is that “less is more”. Lehman believes that carefully tailoring course content to both the subject matter and the learning objectives of the students and the master’s program itself may be the most important – and possibly the most difficult – parts of being course manager.

Lehman feels honored and encouraged by the award to continue his efforts to advance the master’s teaching program.

Lehman was nominated enthusiastically by several students who commended his “commitment to excellence in teaching” and “profound dedication to the growth of [his] students.”

“Dr. Lehman is a first-class professor who is immensely passionate about the education of his students and their success within the healthcare field,” one student wrote. “His outstanding leadership of the DMD Physiology course has made each of his students exceptionally competent and knowledgeable.”

Jeffrey Browning, PhD

Research Professor of Virology, Immunology & Microbiology (VIM)

Browning, recognized as the GMS Educator of the Year for PhD programs, has been at BU since 2013. While his primary appointment is in VIM, Browning also has a secondary appointment in the Section of Rheumatology.

Before coming to BU, Browning worked at Biogen, where his research focused on hormones that control the immune system. Toward his last few years at Biogen, he found himself wanting to work closer to human disease, a challenge he took on when he moved to BU to work on scleroderma and lupus research.

Browning’s current research at BU focuses on understanding how the immune system interacts with stromal elements to form specialized microenvironments particularly in the skin.

To Browning, his move from biotech into teaching was a way of “giving back.” He currently directs and teaches in the Comprehensive Immunology course, as well as in the Business of Science course. He also teaches immunology to some rheumatology fellows as they prepare for their board exams.

“Science is kind of like a video game,” Browning said. “It’s about making progress forward. Pharma allowed me to do that. Looking back, what I missed was teaching and interactions with young students.”

Upon arriving at BU, one of Browning’s key challenges was updating the immunology course. Recognizing that many disciplines need at least a basic understanding of immunology, his goal was to make the class less granular and more focused on how immunology works as an ensemble of parts.  .

“That’s precisely the hard part to teach,” Browning said. “It’s very easy to describe the tools in a toolbox, but how do you fix an engine? That’s an entirely different beast.”

In his classes, Browning uses a didactic teaching style and tests that are open book. To Browning, using the tests as a learning opportunity and continuation of the lectures is more important than the metrics of earning an A or a B. He is always happy to speak with students who are struggling with the material and work with them to find a solution.

The course now consistently maintains a student enrollment in the mid-20’s, a significant increase from when Browning first joined the faculty.

He reminds students that upon taking and leaving the course, they are now “immunology ambassadors,” a role that is all the more important in such a fast-paced world of science and technology.

“The hardest thing you have to do is communicate immunology to the lay public,” Browning said. “You guys can converse easily with a fellow scientist, but explaining science to your mother could be the hardest conversation you have.”

Browning’s award nomination described him as “a dedicated educator […] who consistently strives to impart his vast knowledge and excitement for immunology to students.”

Browning, who was “pleased and flattered” to earn this year’s award, said that he is consistently learning more and more, even during lectures that he has taught several times.

Browning’s goal is to keep students on board and riveted by using examples and metaphors that resonate, with a reasonable amount of material that does not overwhelm them. Getting it right, Browning says, “is a lifetime job.”

“All of these things that go into making it fun to learn is hard,” Browning said. “After 10 years, I’m just at the beginning.”

Congratulations, Dr. Lehman and Dr. Browning, on well-deserved awards! Learn more about all five BU CAMED faculty honored with Educator of the Year awards here.