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Kevin Ahern in front of garden

Biochemist wins U.S. Fulbright Scholar award

By Tamara Cissna

Kevin Ahern, Biochem & Biophysics

When improving scientific education and enhancing student success is your whole life’s work, “retirement” does not mean merely clocking out. It means that “your time is now your own” as you continue investing in and enriching lives – so newly retired Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics Kevin Ahern sees things.

“Being a scientist means you use your knowledge to the benefit of everybody else. We say knowledge is power, but with power comes responsibility,” said Ahern.

With the receipt of a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program Award to Malta, Ahern will take his knowledge and passion for teaching and mentoring students to a new, overseas academic community.

In September, Ahern and his wife, Indira Rajagopal, recently retired senior biochemistry and biophysics instructor, will head to the University of Malta where Ahern was invited to help shape the university’s new physiology and biochemistry undergraduate degree program, create a new class, design and execute laboratory sessions, lead faculty workshops on innovative teaching methods and mentor undergraduate students.

“The University of Malta’s new biochemistry program is only two years old, so this will be a very exciting opportunity to get in and help develop the program. I’ve been involved in developing our program here, but starting with a brand new one is exciting,” said Ahern.

Throughout his OSU career, Ahern remained deeply committed to making the study of life sciences more accessible to students here and throughout the world – expanding the use of technology in the classroom, delivering online lectures and providing free downloadable digital textbooks. He is beloved by students for his innovative teaching methods and dedicated mentorship – for which he received OSU’s highest teaching honor, the Elizabeth P. Ritchie Distinguished Professor Award, among numerous other awards.

Soon University of Malta students will benefit from Ahern’s novel approach to teaching biochemistry, mentorship and treasured sense of humor. And Ahern, alternatively, will gain the unique opportunity to help in the building of an undergraduate degree program from the ground up while also learning about the European educational system at a university where English is the primary language.

“Though my YouTube lectures have reached students in every corner of the world, I have not had the opportunity to interact with and teach students in face-to-face environments outside of Oregon, or at a medical school,” he explained.

Ahern is one of more than 800 accomplished U.S. citizens this year who will teach, conduct research and provide expertise abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

He will spend his time in the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry within the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery for a 10-month period that spans two semester-based academic terms. He is excited for the opportunity to work in a medical school for the first time, despite having tens of thousands of medical students around the world who use his open-source educational resources.

Ahern also looks forward to enjoying the country’s European influence and his first-time experience of living in another country. “It’s also a pretty exotic location – an island in the Mediterranean. So that’s cool,” said Ahern.

Rajagopal plans to further her work on course and textbook development with Ahern while in Malta. She also plans to learn Italian, improve her swimming skills and explore “every nook and cranny” of the 10-by-15 mile island.

There are countless intangible benefits that Ahern and Rajagopal will bring to the University of Malta as dedicated teaching professors and advisors who champion their students’ success and go to great lengths to provide the tools to empower them.

For Ahern, known for his science-themed songs, humor will also be part of the equation, naturally. “I get as much joy out of making people laugh as anything else that I do,” said Ahern.

Ahern’s Metabolic Melodies, one of his unconventional teaching methods, includes over 100 biochemistry songs. So he will be able to perform a different song that actually teaches students biochemistry for every lecture he gives. It’s assured, Ahern will continue this teaching practice in Malta, too.

Read more about Ahern and Rajagopal’s 30-year tenure at Oregon State and retirement, check out Two lives intertwined by biochemistry.