June 9, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 20

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    Faculty Award: Stephen Meredith, Associate Professor in P

    Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching: Stephen Meredith, Associate Professor in Pathology

    A mentor, a student once observed, is someone who remembers what it was like to be a student. Stephen Meredith (Ph.D.'82), Associate Professor in Pathology, is clearly one teacher who holds such empathy for his understudies.

    "Education is a struggle -- often a humiliating struggle," Meredith said, paraphrasing Plato. "A teacher must not only impart information, but also encourage and give confidence, because students are for the most part terribly insecure."

    Meredith is quick to point out that teachers are learners, too, and that he was tutored in teaching by his thesis adviser, former Chicago biochemist Ferenc Kezdy. "He would rake my lectures over the coals," Meredith recalled, "but the criticism was always constructive."

    Meredith said he recalls these first teaching experiences at the University whenever he is tempted to think he teaches well. "I don't know that I'm a good teacher, but I've definitely gotten better," he said. "I don't know whether I deserve this honor or not."

    Meredith likely deserves an award just for the sheer range of his teaching duties. He teaches Cellular Pathology to second-year medical students and a three-quarter sequence called Molecular Mechanisms of Disease to graduate students, and he trains resident physicians in Pathology in the autopsy service. He also teaches two literature courses, one in the College on James Joyce, and one called Disease, on the literary and philosophical aspects of disease and the problem of evil.

    "Each group of students has a different orientation toward the material," Meredith said. "Undergraduates have a wide-eyed interest in everything; graduate students are more focused and critical. Medical students are very businesslike, and residents even more so. But they're all more similar than you might imagine. They're all trying to understand something, and they usually have a positive attitude toward what they're trying to understand."

    Meredith also supervises thesis research by graduate students in Pathology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Human Nutrition & Nutritional Biology.

    The role of thesis adviser, he said, is closest to that of the true classical mentor. "You're part teacher, part parent and part father-confessor," he said. "It's the most intense teaching, and the most rewarding, as you see people really develop. No small part of graduate teaching is knowing how to get out of a student's way, how not to obstruct."

    Meredith's own research focuses on protein structure and protein-lipid interactions. He uses small, synthetic model peptides to study how lipoproteins are metabolized in the body and cleared from the blood. Some of these variant peptides are even "improvements" over their natural counterparts, he said, and could lead to new therapeutic approaches to lowering cholesterol and lipid levels in the blood.

    Meredith received his A.B. in 1970 from Brandeis University and his M.D. in 1974 from Washington University. After a residency in anatomic pathology at the University of Chicago Hospitals, he joined the faculty in 1979 and received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Chicago in 1982.

    -- Bill Burton