Perhaps the highest compliment any teacher can receive is that he or she transcends the subject matter taught. A student of James A. Mortimer, PhD, paid him that very compliment in nominating him for USF College of Public Health Professor of the Year.
“He used humor as a way of making a boring subject bearable,” the student remarked, “especially for students from concentrations other than biostatistics and epidemiology.”
Being seen as a professional role model is another valued student accolade, and Mortimer’s students recognized that, too.
“He has demonstrated that well-established public health professionals start out as graduate students who can achieve great accomplishments,” said a student in Mortimer’s Biostatistics 1 class.
And of course, good old-fashioned likability never hurts, either, and Mortimer’s students had plenty to say in that regard, as well.
“He is very funny, nice, and is willing to go above and beyond to help students understand lecture materials,” one said.
Professor Mortimer teaches in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, where he specializes in neuro-epidemiology. He came to the College of Public Health in 1996 as director of the Institute on Aging.
Outside of his work at the college, he has served as executive convener of the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, chair of the Mental Disorders of Aging Study Section at the National Institutes of Health, and as a policy board member of the Canadian Study of Health and the Honolulu Heart Program.
While being dedicated to his students’ academic comprehension, Mortimer thinks that ranks behind a commitment to guidance.
“My favorite part of teaching is advising,” Mortimer said, “which I think, if you do it right, is the most important thing that we as faculty can do for students. My advisees will tell you that when I meet them, the first question that I ask is what they want to be when they grow up. It’s only through understanding the complete picture of a student’s aspirations and plans that we can do our job in providing the best educational opportunities.
“What kind of career do they want to have? What is it about public health that turns them on? Are they interested in a particular research area that we can facilitate through connections that we have? Where should they go for additional advice?
“When you think about it, the amount of time that we devote to that first meeting with a new advisee is dwarfed by the many hours that we spend preparing lectures, grading and carrying out our responsibilities. However, I think for the student it is the most important contribution we can make.”
The COPH presents its Outstanding Professor of the Year award annually in conjunction with National Public Health Week. Mortimer was honored as this year’s recipient at the college’s annual awards ceremony on April 9.
True to form, he thanked his students for the honor.
Story by Infiniti Mincey and David Brothers, USF College of Public Health. Photos by Ellen Kent, USF College of Public Health, and Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications