Parasitologist receives UF veterinary college’s top teaching award

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Heather Walden, Ph.D., an assistant professor of veterinary parasitology, has received the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine’s 2016 Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award.

Walden was selected based on criteria that included peer and student evaluations; quality of teaching and impact on student learning; and teaching-related research, service and publishing activities.

A member of the college’s faculty since 2010, she handles the largest teaching load of any faculty member in the department of infectious diseases and pathology, teaching core parasitology along with courses in small and large animal parasitology, said John Dame, Ph.D., a professor and the department chair. She also co-teaches a clinical rotation and has given guest lectures in various courses offered at the college and at Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.

He said Walden had inherited a teaching load once shared by four parasitologists.

“Dr. Walden’s student evaluations consistently exceed both the department and the college mean for overall teaching performance,” Dame said. “Her outstanding scores come as the result of her excitement about her academic discipline and clear presentation of the subject matter, which inspire students to evaluate her instruction so highly.”

In addition to teaching, Walden trains summer students in her laboratory and provides diagnostic services to the UF Veterinary Hospitals as well as other public and private institutions throughout the country.

“My goal is to not create parasitologists, although we need more classical veterinary parasitologists, but rather veterinarians who are confident and proficient in their knowledge of parasitology and the expert in the eyes of the client,” Walden said. “My teaching philosophy is to include as much hands-on training as possible, because a precise parasitological diagnosis is best obtained through parasite identification, even in the age of molecular methodology.”

Dame said Walden contributes uniquely at the University of Florida, since few classically trained parasitologists are available nationally to present this body of knowledge to veterinary medical students.

“We feel very privileged to have Dr. Walden on our faculty, especially with her dedication to effective teaching, which we believe will inspire others to follow this specialty,” he said.