Michael Nappier, assistant professor of community practice in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, has earned the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL).

The award, presented by the CETL to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.

“It is really special to be recognized for the teaching aspect of what I do,” said Nappier. “As such an integral part of what we do as a university, it sometimes gets overshadowed by flashier things. It is an honor to be recognized in this way.”

Among the pillars of the CETL are to help advance experiential learning at Virginia Tech and to improve student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. Nappier said his personal approach to teaching closely aligns with this commitment, and his teaching philosophy is about creating “hands-on, minds-on” opportunities.

“Most of what I teach is veterinary clinical skills, and the only way that students can truly absorb them is to actually get their hands on and practice,” Nappier said. “My philosophy is also that being professional can be fun as well. If you don't love what you do, then why are you doing it? Teaching students that they are allowed to show that enjoyment is important in how they will approach the rest of their careers.”

Nappier says he is all about experiential learning. Most of what he teaches are clinical skills, and there is only so much he can lecture about related to a physical procedure. He loves getting the students into the lab setting and getting a hands-on, minds-on atmosphere going.

“Having them work in small groups in our labs introduces the idea of peer-assisted learning, and it helps for them both to be the ‘doer’ as well as watching others and seeing how things go for them.”

Caleb Whitfield, a student in the veterinary college, said that few instructors at Virginia Tech stand out like Nappier.

“(Nappier) is always willing to volunteer his free time to assist with events to engage with his students as individuals and strives to ensure that we are having fun while we learn. His ‘House Cup Challenge’ in our second year brought a breath of levity that we as students needed, and (it) challenged us to be responsible while providing us with a creative outlet that we could infuse with our education.”

Another of Nappier’s students, Ash Wells, said that through humor and the enthusiastic sharing of personal anecdotes, Nappier has an invaluable ability to make veterinary students feel at ease and capable when it comes to the development of intimidating surgical skills.

Among his most memorable and meaningful experiences as a teacher, Nappier said he enjoys being able to take his students through their progression of clinical skills, from meeting them on day one of their vet school career all the way though their first live animal surgeries, as well as seeing their growth.

“At a higher level, teaching my residents and watching them mature as advanced general practitioners is really rewarding,” Nappier said. “I had a great experience this past year where for the first time I could actually step back and have my senior resident teach my junior resident.

“What I am most proud of is all the good that our graduates are going to do for animals. By teaching them, I don't just get to help individual animals, but I get to help the animals that all of my graduates are going to attend to in the future. It's kind of like being a medical force multiplier.”