Outstanding Teachers: Learning How — Not What — to Think

April 28, 2013 | Salute to Scholars, The University

Great Teaching is at the heart of a great university. Nine University professors featured here have received special acclaim for their instructional acumen from Carnegie Foundation, Presidential and Chancellor awards to recognition by The Princeton Review. Their classroom magic inspires students and prepares them for the future.

Susan Croll - Associate Professor of Neuropsychology - Queens College

Susan Croll – Associate Professor of Neuropsychology – Queens College

WHEN SHE WAS JUST 4 years old, Queens College associate professor Susan Croll announced that she would be a medical researcher. As a youngster, she was fascinated by her father’s psychology lectures at SUNY Broome Community College and helped him grade the bubble exams, “but not the essay questions.” Now The Princeton Review has recognized this neuropsychologist for her own teaching abilities.

“Two things are the most important in teaching,” she says. “The first is not to be a slave to the information; the concepts and what you do with the information are more important. Facts flitter away at the end of the semester, but ways of analyzing things stay with you forever. The second is to be very accepting of students and open to them. If you’re not in tune with them, they won’t feel supported and won’t have a sense of community.”

The results show up in 100-level classes like “Contemporary Issues in Science” where Croll has the opportunity “to teach entry-level students who are learning how to think.” Students consider the science and ethics of topics like cloning, stem cell research and how society might change if people embedded memory chips in their brains. “It doesn’t make a difference what position students take, as long as they provide rational arguments.”

Doctoral candidate Henry Ruiz finds Croll an inspiration. She has mentored him throughout his studies (Queens College B.A. in neuroscience and psychology, minors in biology and philosophy, 2008; M.A. in behavioral neuroscience, 2010; CUNY Ph.D. in neuropsychology expected fall 2013). “I started in her lab as an undergraduate, looking at differences in the brain cells of animals with autism-like disorders,” Ruiz says. He now probes the relationship between the central nervous system (primarily the brain) – or what is called the neuroimmune system – and autoimmune diseases like lupus, scleroderma and inflammatory bowel disease. “Once we block a specific neuropeptide pathway, we see a decrease in inflammation,” he says, pointing toward possible therapeutic agents.

Ruiz also has taught at Queens as an adjunct instructor since 2008. “A lot of my teaching style comes from my mentors, Susan Croll and [neurobiology professor] Joshua Brumberg. I aim to teach just like them.”
Croll’s research focuses on protein-based disease treatments. On campus, she targets protein factors in neurological conditions including epilepsy, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. “I specialize in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s involved in a number of neurological diseases. In

Alzheimer’s, we’re trying to figure out how to modulate the immune system, so it doesn’t attack and damage cells in the brain.”
She is currently on academic leave at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., where she has long consulted. She helped in the early stages of developing the drug Eylea, which the Food and Drug Administration recently approved to treat neovascular (wet) age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness. Eylea inhibits the growth of leaky blood vessels in the eye by blocking the vascular endothelial growth factor protein.