Daniele Armaleo Ph.D. ’84 has been teaching molecular biology at Duke since 1975. Students now are not just exploring the microscopic components of life, but engaging with advancements in genetic engineering and genomics. Although the research frontiers of his field accelerate ever faster, the basics of teaching undergraduates have remained constant.
“I want students to get excited about discovering the beauty and complexity behind life’s diversity—the unifying principle of evolution, for example, or the unifying principle of natural selection,” says Armaleo, associate professor of the practice of biology and winner of the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award (ADUTA), the highest recognition that students can bestow on a teacher. The award was established by the Duke Alumni Association in 1970; a student committee makes the final determination of recipients.
A native of Rome, Armaleo arrived in Durham as a graduate student and was almost immediately thrust into the classroom, as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate course on genetics. His initial panic of having to answer complicated questions about recombinant DNA in English was soon replaced by the thrill of helping students develop a deep, nuanced understanding of the subject at hand.
In ADUTA nominations, students noted that despite the rigor of the eight-hour-a-week lab course, Armaleo fosters an environment that encourages curiosity and camaraderie. “Perhaps his greatest strength as a teacher lies in his incredible awareness and sensitivity to the attitudes and motivations of students,” wrote one. “He is particularly adept at gauging students’ interest and energy levels and tailoring the flow of his class accordingly with a mixture of [genuinely funny] jokes, hands-on activity, and probing questions.”
ADUTA winners receive $5,000 with an additional $1,000 going to a Duke library of the winner’s choice. Armaleo will be recognized as part of Founders’ Day ceremonies in September.