Dr. Michael Ryan, professor of physiology and biophysics, is the 2019 Regions TEACH Prize recipient.
Dr. Michael Ryan, professor of physiology and biophysics, smiles while displaying his 2019 Regions TEACH Prize.
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Physiologist claims UMMC's top educator honor

Published on Thursday, May 9, 2019

By: Karen Bascom

When a younger, not-yet-Ph.D.-recipient Michael Ryan arrived at the State University of New York-Cortland campus in the state’s Finger Lakes region as an undergraduate, his plan was to become a physical education teacher. One thing stopped him.

“I found my education theory class to be painfully boring,” Ryan said. 

What he did find interesting, however, were the courses in anatomy and physiology and biomechanics. Combined with his childhood interest in sciences, he decided to switch his major to biological sciences.

Now a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Ryan eventually found his way back to teaching, spending the last 15 years training the next generation of biomedical scientists and health professionals. And on Tuesday, UMMC named him the 2019 recipient of the Regions TEACH Prize during a ceremony in the Norman C. Nelson Student Union.

Dr. Mike Ryan, left, works with Ph.D. student Elena Dent in their lab. Ryan, a professor of physiology and biophysics, won the 2019 Regions TEACH Prize.
Dr. Mike Ryan, left, works with Elena Dent, Ph.D. student, in their lab.

Since 2013, the annual Regions TEACH, short for Toward Educational Advancement in Care and Health, Prize has recognized one faculty member with a $10,000 award and the knowledge that students had a say in selecting the person deemed the year’s most outstanding educator at UMMC. The award is presented in conjunction with the annual induction ceremony for the Nelson Order, which recognizes the Medical Center’s best teachers.

Ryan, nominated to represent the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, accepted the award from Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, and Robert Leard, market executive for metro Jackson at Regions Bank.

During the ceremony, Ryan was one of 21 Nelson Order inductees, nominated by the students from each of the seven schools of campus. From that group, a committee of administrators, faculty and students select one representative from each of the Medical Center’s seven schools to be a finalist for the TEACH Prize.

Dr. Michael Ryan, center, received the 2019 Regions TEACH (Toward Educational Advancement in Care and Health) Prize May 7 at UMMC. Robert Leard, market executive for Regions Bank, left, and Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs, presented him with the award.
Dr. Michael Ryan, center, receives the 2019 Regions TEACH Prize from Robert Leard, market executive for Regions Bank, and Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs.

“Our real reason for being here at UMMC is teaching,” Woodward told the honorees. “There are a thousand different things happening on campus, but what matters is what happens with the students and learners.”

Ryan, whose research focuses on the mechanisms of hypertension in autoimmune diseases and the risk of stroke in women with preeclampsia, has mentored dozens of graduate, medical, and undergraduate students in his laboratory.

“[Ryan] is enthusiastic about talking with trainees about their work, and doesn’t make us feel like we are a burden on his time,” said Elena Dent, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Ryan’s lab. “He also reminds us that there are other aspects to training other than research in the lab or coursework.”

Ryan gets some of his teaching principals from his doctoral-work mentor at the University of Buffalo, Dr. George Hajduczok, who encouraged Ryan to pursue a level of self-reliance and responsibility in the lab.

“Academic science is a tough field. Sometimes papers are rejected, grants don’t get funded, experiments don’t pan out,” Ryan said. “A very important quality for trainees to develop is the ability to persevere and not get flustered. I encourage them to keep an even keel and look at challenges as opportunities,” he said.

Portrait of Victoria Wolf

“His strength is that how he lets use be responsible for our research and reminds us that things don’t always work out in science,” said Victoria Wolf, another Ryan lab trainee who will graduate this month with a Ph.D. and is starting a postdoctoral fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina. “For example, you can learn from negative studies. He’s good at seeing the positive, saying ‘actually this is an exciting because of this,” Wolf said.

Outside of his laboratory mentorship, Ryan had lectured for graduate courses in endocrinology and renal, circulation and medical physiology, as well as courses in responsible research conduct and grant-writing.

Portrait of Dr. Rob Rockhold

Ryan, who also serves as associate dean for student affairs in the SGSHS and director of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics’ Ph.D. track, has been recognized for his commitment to education before. In February, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning named him Diversity Educator of the Year for his efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in the biomedical sciences and his leadership in the SGSHS’s multiple student outreach programs.

Dr. Rob Rockhold, deputy chief academic affairs officer, said all of the Nelson Order recipients represent “extraordinary examples of educational leadership” and “the very pinnacle of teaching excellence.” He finished the ceremony with a quote from Canadian physician Dr. William Osler: “No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer than that blown by the successful teacher.”

2019 Nelson Order inductees
The 2019 Nelson Order inductees include, front row from left, Dr. Susana Salazar Marocho, Cynthia Senior, Dr. Michael Ryan, Dr. Jana Bagwell, Dr. Mike Ketchum and Dr. Thomas Dobbs, and back row from left, Dr. Chelsey Andries, Neeli Kirkendall, Dr. Gary Theilman, Dr. Cynthia Casey, Dr. Thomas Adair, Dr. Karen Winters, Dr. Eddie Perkins, Dr. Mark Earl, Dr. Angela Burrell, Dr. Lyssa Weatherly and Dr. Brad Ingram. 2019 Nelson Order inductees not pictured include Dr. Tracy Dellinger, Dr. Charles Ramsey, Dr. Tarif Bakdash and Dr. Devinna Bahadur.

2019 TEACH Prize Finalists
Dr. Susana Salazar Marocho, School of Dentistry
Dr. Michael Ryan, School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences
Dr. Jana Bagwell, School of Health Related Professions
Dr. Eddie Perkins, School of Medicine
Dr. Karen Winters, School of Nursing
Dr. Gary Theilman, School of Pharmacy
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, School of Population Health

2019 Nelson Order Inductees

School of Dentistry

Dr. Tracy Dellinger, professor care planning and restorative sciences
Dr. Charles Ramsey, assistant professor of care planning and restorative sciences
Dr. Susana Salazar Marocho, assistant professor of biomedical materials science
Cynthia Senior, assistant professor of dental hygiene

School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences

Dr. Michael Ryan, professor of physiology and biophysics

School of Health Related Professions

Dr. Jana Bagwell, assistant professor of medical laboratory science
Dr. Angela Burrell, assistant professor of health administration
Dr. Cynthia Casey, associate professor of health sciences
Dr. James “Mike” Ketchum, associate professor of radiological sciences

School of Medicine

Dr. Thomas Adair, professor of physiology and biophysics
Dr. Tarif Bakdash, associate professor of pediatrics-neurology
Dr. Eddie Perkins, associate professor of neurosurgery
Dr. Lyssa Weatherly, assistant professor of medicine-geriatrics
Dr. Brad Ingram, associate professor of pediatrics-neurology
Dr. Truman “Mark” Earl, associate professor of surgery-transplant

School of Nursing

Dr. Chelsey Andries, instructor
Devinna Bahadur, instructor
Neeli Kirkendall, assistant professor, Oxford campus
Dr. Karen Winters, professor

School of Pharmacy – Jackson Campus

Dr. Gary Theilman, associate professor of pharmacy practice

John D. Bower School of Population Health

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, associate professor of population health science