By Stefan Tuomanen

Bruns articleWelcome to the first Faculty Spotlight of 2019. We have a unique profile this month for one of the newest members of UAB, Associate Professor and Education Coordinator Dr. Heather Bruns.

Coming from Ball State University’s Department of Biology in Indiana and Indiana University School of Medicine, Dr. Bruns is delighted to step into this newly created position: serving as an education point person for the Department of Microbiology, which is increasing its investment in undergraduate, graduate, and medical education programs. One of her many goals is to identify, coordinate, and tailor content coming out of the department for integration into a variety of courses and programs.
Dr. Bruns said she was enticed to join UAB not only by the prospect of establishing a new, forward-thinking science education position, but also by the passion and camaraderie she saw in the faculty. “Everyone seems to celebrate each other’s successes” Dr. Bruns said. Of the UAB faculty in general, Dr. Bruns said she was pleasantly surprised by how many of them enjoyed teaching. “UAB faculty seem to have a notable interest in making sure information is conveyed appropriately. To have that many faculty have that much concern over content and education is unusual and fantastic.” She is now hoping to bolster and share that ethos and work ethic with the further generations of UAB scientists.
Over her 15-year career at Ball State, Dr. Bruns gathered a wealth of education experience and success as a professor, mentor, and administrator. Her final two years there were spent as Assistant Chair of Biology in which she oversaw faculty teaching loads, student assistantship placements, and served as a communication bridge between curriculum revision committees.  In addition, the last 4 years she served as an Adjunct Professor for Indiana University School of Medicine directing the clinical immunology and microbiology course for the Muncie campus.
Dr. Bruns views education as a service position and feels a great sense of pride and responsibility towards the growth and professional development of students. “What makes me passionate about educating others is thinking about what I want my students to know. What I want to change is figuring out how to convey, or channel, their passion in an effective manner.” She feels she brings to the table an understanding of the different needs and issues undergrads, graduate students, and medical students face. As such she will have a hand in the development of undergraduate immunology, medical school, and graduate school courses.
When asked what characteristics help make a good educator and mentor,  Dr. Bruns quickly and confidently said, “genuine care coupled with independence.” She went on to say one of her best skills she has worked to develop is how to properly set expectations in such a way that students want to meet them and feel good when they do. She said:
“You model who you want your mentees to be. It’s not always easy but allowing students trust and freedom, all while allowing them the freedom to fail, is deeply important to education.You also have to have an understanding that instant integration of information isn’t realistic… It’s about healthy expectations. As an educator, I try to bring a sense of approachability while maintaining strength and healthy expectations.” 
Cultivating that sense, she mentioned is no easy task. Yet, Dr. Bruns feels one of the keys is actually “self-deprecating humor.” She believes that students enter the classroom with the mindset of ‘I don’t care what you know until you I know that you care.’ As Dr. Bruns felt in her experience as a student, “If [a professor is] willing to get up and make a joke at [their] expense, then the human part of us realizes that they let their guard down and that tells me they care.” Dr. Bruns wanted to stress that she is looking forward to working with faculty in a supportive manner, identifying and growing the good in each professor and their ability to be a positive mentor.  We are eager to see the impact Dr. Bruns has on the evolution of science education at UAB. Her experience and educational philosophy will certainly only improve how we help prepare our students for the professional science world.