Heloisa Rutigliano Wins USDA Award, Designs New College Curriculum
By Ethan Brightbill |
Associate Professor Heloisa Rutigliano recently received a regional United States Department of Agriculture Excellence in Teaching Award. And as chair of the curriculum committee in Utah State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and its newly appointed associate dean of academic programs, she’s in a position to put her teaching skills to good use.
Rutigliano strives to create a collaborative classroom environment, and she uses active learning experiences grounded in real life examples to help students develop skills including problem solving, professional conduct, logical and ethical reasoning, and communication. However, she also takes inspiration from the guiding principle of her research: the scientific method. By posing questions about her own teaching, making predictions about the answers to those questions, gathering and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions from the results, Rutigliano extends the rigor of her research to the classroom.
“I identify something in my course that needs to be improved or changed,” Rutigliano said, “and I search the literature to see what is already known about the topic. I implement a new teaching method, which can be an assignment, assessment, or different way to engage students, and I collect and interpret the results of that approach to see if it was effective or not. I try to communicate those results to my colleagues at conferences through publications or presentations. And then I further improve and tweak the new methodology that I used.”
The principles are the same across teaching and research, Rutigliano said. What changes is the nature of the study. Instead of, say, the bovine placentas and uteruses she might view for research, Rutigliano examines assessments and data on student learning.
“I firmly believe that you can become a more effective instructor if you use a systematic approach,” Rutigliano said.
As chair of the college’s curriculum committee and associate dean, Rutigliano now has the opportunity to take that philosophy and apply it to an entire veterinary medicine college. The new curriculum is centered on the competencies veterinarians need to succeed, and the committee isn’t relying on only its own experience to create it. Rutigliano and other committee members have studied licensing exam documents and accreditation requirements to ensure students have all the skills expected from today’s veterinarians. They’ve also reached out to active practitioners in the field for their feedback, which is particularly important since students will be completing their fourth-year rotations through partnerships with clinics across the Intermountain West.
In practice, Rutigliano’s approach means first identifying the competencies the college intends to teach and then working backward from there to devise ways to make that happen.
“Let’s say our goal is to address a specific disease in dogs,” Rutigliano said. “First, we’ll figure out how to design a third-year clinical course that covers how to treat, diagnose and prevent that disease. Then we’ll look ahead of that and design a second-year course that teaches students the pathology behind that disease so that they understand how it works. And finally, we’ll look at the first year and make sure students understand how the systems affected by that disease work when they’re healthy so that students have context throughout their education.”
Designing the new curriculum has also come with challenges. While Rutigliano previously participated in the curriculum review committee at Washington State University, the task of creating a wholly new curriculum is still new to her and the rest of the committee, and there aren’t many publications on the subject.
“I felt like I was a novice, like I was completely unprepared,” Rutigliano said. “Fortunately, it turned out that our committee is full of highly motivated people who really have a vision to improve the curriculum and prepare future veterinarians. We’ve had our ups and downs, and we haven’t always known what direction to take. But gradually, we developed some trust in our capacity to overcome those obstacles and do something novel. And now we’re coming up with something that’s pretty exciting.”
While Rutigliano didn’t always know that she wanted to be an educator, both teaching and animal care run in her family, as her mother is a Portuguese teacher and her father is an agronomist and a farmer. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian.
“I was always intrigued by how the body of an animal works and what makes them sick,” Rutigliano said.
After earning her doctor of veterinary medicine at Sao Paulo State University, Rutigliano completed a master of science and a Ph.D. in animal biology at the University of California Davis. It was as she was earning her master’s that she became a teaching assistant and discovered her love of education. She began postdoctoral research at Utah State in 2010 before becoming a faculty member. In 2021, she received USU’s top teaching honor, the Eldon J. Gardner Teacher of the Year Award.
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