Brandt recharges batteries — and students
When many people his age are thinking about the next golf course they will be playing, Karl Brandt, 65, is deeply im-mersed in a course of a different color, a bioethics honors course he will teach next spring.
Brandt, a professor of biochemistry, recently completed a six-month sabbatical at Duke University where he learned “as much as I possibly could” about bioethics and its relation to biochemistry, life sciences and agriculture.
Brandt stepped down in 2002 as assistant dean of agriculture and director of academic programs. While he has no intention of surrendering his teaching duties, for the first time since completing his PhD at MIT in 1964, Brandt became a student again.
He attended class lectures, seminars and discussions; wrote papers; sought out other educators, experts and authors for advice; and read everything he could get his hands on (25 articles and books, by his count) to familiarize himself with the subject of bioethics.
This spring, Brandt will apply what he learned teaching an honors-level course where students will study malaria and examine our moral and ethical responsibilities for devoting U.S. resources to seek treatments and vaccines for a disease that has all but been eliminated in this country.
“I don't pretend to know everything about bioethics, and I never will. I'm not a philosopher,” Brandt says. “But I know more than I did six months ago. With this course, we (the students and the teacher) can teach each other. That is what it is all about, helping each other learn and grow from the experience.”
Brandt began thinking about bioethics as the subject matter for a course nearly a decade ago. As associate dean, he helped support a pair of bioethics workshops for Purdue faculty members.
The workshop speakers and the material they presented intrigued Brandt. But it wasn't until he stepped down as an administrator that he could develop his own course material.
“I wanted to learn something new,” says Brandt, who admits he is excited and a little nervous as he prepares for the inaugural class. “I've never taught a class where the format has been primarily discussion-based, depending heavily on student participation in class, and that is one of my real worries.”
With his batteries recharged, Brandt knows when he'll retire as an educator;he just can't pin down the exact date. He says he'll move on when he answers “no” to any of three simple questions.
“The first question is, am I having fun?” says Brandt, “Then I ask myself if I am still able to help students learn. And third, am I still pulling my weight in the department? Are they getting a good deal in me or would they be better off replacing me with someone younger with some exciting new ideas in teaching?
“I'm not ready to retire,” says Brandt. “I know I can help the department by being in the classroom, helping students learn.”
Contact Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org
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