Taking education personally
New Graduate School dean perpetuates individualized teaching
Ravi Misra, PhD, is Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professor of Biochemistry at The Medical College of Wisconsin.
The Medical College of Wisconsin has developed a reputation for producing medical scientists who are on the frontier of transforming patient care. Recently appointed Dean of the College’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Ravi Misra, PhD, intends to keep it that way.
“We have a tremendously talented faculty who are committed to the educational mission here despite how challenging that can sometimes be,” Dr. Misra said. “I see my job as leader of the Graduate School as empowering our faculty by helping create an environment that allows the faculty and our dedicated staff to unleash their creativity, develop new programs and more effectively train the next generation of research scientists and health care workers.”
Dr. Misra’s longstanding interest in the academic side of science is what brought him to the College 17 years ago. “That’s why I wanted to become a professor at an academic institution as opposed to working at a purely research institution,” he said. Since then he has been a dedicated advocate and accomplished leader in advancing the programs of the Graduate School. With 450 students enrolled and no undergraduate population to manage, Dr. Misra anticipates the educational experience will continue to be very personal for each graduate student.
“One of the great strengths of our Graduate School is the individual attention we give to our students’ education. No two students follow the exact same path to their educational destination,” Dr. Misra said.
Dr. Misra has developed a personal approach to teaching and mentoring students that encourages application of the facts and ideas they’ve learned in the classroom to their experiences in the scientific and medical worlds. He strives to instill in his students the value of lifelong learning and that a central goal of advanced graduate training is to take ownership of their education.
It is the unique structure at the school that allows him and other faculty members to adopt an individualized teaching paradigm. Choices and study direction are varied so students are not locked into a standard set of courses. They are mentored at multiple levels and are able to choose their path as they encounter different opportunities in the biomedical sciences.
“The future of biomedical sciences as a career is dynamic and ever-changing,” said Dr. Misra, a biochemist. “We’d like to continue to be nimble and to offer programs that reflect the current changing biomedical environment to allow our students the best possible chance to meet the challenges that lie ahead for them. And we will solidify translational science as one of our core educational missions.”
Having teaching faculty dedicated to the educational mission as well as other professionals who are authorities in their specialty is a boon to College students. Dr. Misra’s research interests lie in the genetic mechanisms of cardiac function and heart formation, focusing on the coronary vascular system. The end goal of his research is to improve outcomes for those born with congenital cardiovascular anomalies. Dr. Misra expects the Graduate School will continue to invest in faculty with expertise relevant to the advances and changes in biomedical research.
Poised for growth
As more researchers are drawn to the College, the breadth of the College’s expertise will increase, as will the opportunities to add programs and educational options. Currently, the Graduate School offers 10 doctoral and seven master’s degree programs. Dr. Misra foresees one of his challenges will be to ensure that PhD programs can keep pace with the growth of research, and that there are adequate resources to keep the educational programs robust during this historically challenging time for academic biomedical centers.
If there is a health-related topic in which the College has invested from both a research and clinical perspective, Dr. Misra believes the students should also benefit through parallel graduate courses or programs. A broad spectrum of research areas creates a robust biomedical environment.
Already, steps are being taken to form two new dual degrees that complement the existing MD/PhD program. One will be an MD/MPH. The other will be an MD/MS in clinical and translational research, an initiative of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of Southeast Wisconsin.
The CTSI is a collaboration of the Medical College with its affiliates Froedtert Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Zablocki VA Medical Center and BloodCenter of Wisconsin, plus Marquette University, Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM) with the goal of advancing biomedical research, patient care and education. The collaboration presents opportunities for adjunct appointments at partner institutions. And, it allows the schools to capitalize on each other’s strengths: physicians, biostatistics and clinical trial experience from the Medical College and affiliates; bioengineering from Marquette, design skills from MSOE; and math, physics and other sciences from UWM.
“We want to maximize those opportunities as we develop new programs that leverage the existing strengths of the Medical College,” Dr. Misra said.
A growing national trend for master’s programs that do not require hands on lab work is to create an entirely online curriculum. Dr. Misra and the staff of the Graduate School are exploring possibilities for more distance learning opportunities that will expand the College’s outreach to professionals seeking further medical credentialing.
“Faculty and students that we’ve talked to are very eager to see these things put in place,” said Dr. Misra of the new programs and delivery methods being developed.
Science of personalized medicine
Nothing reflects the current changing medical science environment and the importance of translational medicine more than the recent treatment by College scientists and clinicians of a young boy with a previously unidentified disease caused by a rare genetic mutation. The pioneering application of genome sequencing in this child’s diagnosis heralds the impending advance of personalized medicine – a fundamental shift toward using information about a person’s genes, proteins and environment to prevent, diagnose and treat disease.
Dr. Misra sees graduate students benefiting from learning personalized medicine techniques from scientists who pioneered the methods. He advocates for adding a personalized medicine program to the school’s offerings. He also envisions the Medical College as the heart of personalized medicine training, where new methods of disease diagnosis are offered at multiple educational levels: to residents, genetic counselors, medical practitioners, medical centers and even practice groups.
While growing student opportunities and faculty expertise, Dr. Misra is also focused on growing enrollment, especially of higher-achieving traditional students and of underrepresented minorities. He would also like to see the College recruit more post-doctoral fellows. Dr. Misra recognizes post-docs as critical to the research enterprise and acknowledges that their presence and their work also makes the student experience much richer.
And while Dr. Misra works to maintain the standard of excellence achieved within the Graduate School, he notes there is room to improve communication with those students from the past and of the future. One of his goals as dean is to “speak more loudly and transparently to better inform the MCW community about the different educational opportunities and the different aspects of the educational mission of the Graduate School.”
Alumni are a key factor in moving the Graduate School ahead, Dr. Misra said. He is dedicated to improving outreach to alumni, staying connected with them and keeping them engaged in the progress of the school so that they may actively contribute to the academic life of current Graduate School students.
Dr. Ravi Misra, faculty and graduate students agree that mentoring is a key strength of the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
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