Matt Zawistowski recognized for his innovative teaching at Michigan Public Health

Excellence in Teaching Award

The cornerstone of the University of Michigan School of Public Health is the teaching and training that the faculty provide for the students. Faculty’s interest and passion for education separates Michigan Public Health from other research or investigative bodies.

Matt Zawistowski, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics, embodies those traits daily. In 2022, Zawistowski was named the Excellence in Teaching Award winner.

Already a dedicated and talented instructor for undergraduate students, he has inspired students in the Big Data Summer Institute to attend graduate school at Michigan Public Health. More recently, he also began leading courses for non-biostatistics majors to great success. 

Some of his peers have characterized his evaluations as “shocking” because they were “so off-the-charts.” 

“Professor Zawistowski received scores that had never been seen before,” said Sharon L. R. Kardia, associate dean for Education at Michigan Public Health. “His department chair, Bhramar Mukherjee, called him a ‘pioneer’ in teaching introductory statistics to non-majors and in drawing non-quantitative pupils to biostatistics. 

“It's clear that Matt is making his mark on the department, on the school, and on the many, many students in his charge.” 

Zawistowski has started teaching workshops within the department on how to improve instruction. In fact, he recently launched a pedagogical course called “How to design your first biostatistics course as an instructor,” which is quite popular with PhD students. 

“Professor Zawistowski has also proved invaluable during the transfer to online instruction for the duration of the pandemic,” said Mukherjee, chair and the John D. Kalbfleisch Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics “He facilitated best practices that we were learning, either from our own experience, from School support, or from our reading and research. He also has served as a point person for questions and concerns since March 2020.”

Huda Bashir is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Health with a specialization in general epidemiology who has taken biostatistics classes.

“I took Dr. Z’s course in the fall of 2020, when many of us were experiencing hybrid or remote courses for the first time,” Bashir said. “I was especially nervous because I hadn't been in school in almost 10 years, and I thought this would put me at a disadvantage. But Dr. Z demonstrated great care with both the course material and the external pressures on us as students.”

Not only did Zawistowski make the content approachable and enjoyable for students, but he provided flexibility. In the end, what mattered most was the mastery of the material, not just a due date on a calendar. His goal was to create an environment that fostered learning, and he accomplished that, Bashir said.  

“Dr. Z reignited my love for mathematics, and I developed a newfound interest in statistics,” she said. “I really enjoyed the lab assignments, and I learned that not only could I grasp and apply the concepts, but I had unearthed confidence in my ability to do so. This was really exciting to me, and I began to see new possibilities for my career and my future.”

Zawistowski invests deeply in his students and demonstrates great care for them, Bashir said. During office hours, they talked about statistics but their conversations also helped form a bond. 

“I know that now and in the future I can reach out to Dr. Z for advice and support,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful to have had him as a professor.” 

Previous winners

2021 Gary Harper