Pursuing Passions in Science

Paul Cobine honored with Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching

Published: November 12, 2019
Updated: December 02, 2019
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Paul Cobine’s teaching philosophy and methodology is designed to make courses rigorous, fun to participate in and entertaining to teach. Cobine is not just known for his Australian accent and comical classroom references, he helps students learn through memorable moments and adjusting his teaching philosophy through student feedback.

“One person can impact a student’s entire education and career,” Cobine said. “I want to be one of those professors who inspires students to learn and makes the commitment to continually improving for future generations.”

Cobine has used this philosophy for more than 11 years as a professor and graduate program officer in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. His work was recognized this year when he was named the recipient of The Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, given annually to two faculty members who have demonstrated effective and innovative teaching methods, along with a continuing commitment to student success through advising and mentoring.

“My orientation day at Auburn had Professor Robert Lishak presenting about the importance of developing your teaching, and he was introduced as a Leischuck awardee,” said Cobine. “His presentation and reputation, along with the other winner I know, was an immediate inspiration. I have always strived to provide fun and rigorous material as outgoing graduates are our most important product. I try to prepare them with important material but also a memorable experience. The combination of faculty and student recommendations makes this a special award for me.”

Cobine has incorporated better ways to explain basic information and ways to spark a student’s excitement to learn even more, which can have a long-lasting impact on future leaders.

“I want all of my students to finish my class with a sense of accomplishment and a positive experience that encourages them to continue to learn,” he said.

In Cobine’s clinical microbiology class, students might be creating a segment inspired by “So You Think You Can Dance” or acting out a skit in class.

“This is important to me to provide memorable experiences that may be ‘triggered in the student memory’ by watching a movie or seeing a pop culture reference,” said Cobine. “Retention of the material is the most difficult aspect. This forms a conduit to the student remembering my class and to remember some of the facts that were associated with that section. Plus, it makes it more fun to participate in class for me and the students.”

“The learning environment was refreshing in addition to the halftime comic relief,” said a student in an evaluation of Cobine’s general microbiology class. “You made what could’ve been a micro-nightmare into a burning passion for prokaryotes that I have not ever felt in my 20 years.”

It's the positive comments and feedback Cobine receives from his students that inspires him to continue his teaching style.

“He fostered a love for science in his students by showing that being a good scientist means finding something you are passionate about and studying it,” said Laura Oldfather, a first-year master’s thesis student working in Cobine’s lab. “He showed me that passion keeps research moving. You may not get the answers in a year, or two, or even 10, but if you continue pursuing your passions in science you can better the world."

Cobine’s research is focused on understanding how organisms regulate the concentration and distribution of metals. Approximately 40 percent of the cellular proteome requires metals for proper function. However, researchers have a limited understanding of how these essential elements get to the necessary target and how they avoid inappropriate interactions. His research has made contributions to the discovery and definition of the mechanism of action of copper proteins in mitochondria. Cobine's findings may even have implications for treating some forms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

In addition, Cobine has been working with Leonardo De La Fuente from Auburn’s College of Agriculture to understand Xylella fastidiosa, a plant pathogen that causes billions of dollars in damage each year worldwide.

Cobine has received several awards including the 2018 Auburn University Parents Association Faculty and Staff Award, 2018 College of Sciences and Mathematics Young Scholar Award, 2017 College of Sciences and Mathematics Award for Outstanding Teaching, 2016 College of Sciences and Mathematics Outstanding Faculty Outreach Award, 2015 College of Sciences and Mathematics Outstanding Advisor Award and 2010 Faculty Honoree for Camp War Eagle.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.