Texas A&M University and the Association of Former Students have selected outstanding members of Faculty to honor with 2019 Distinguished Achievement Awards in Teaching, and this year our own Dr. Duncan MacKenzie is a well-deserving recipient! The University-level Distinguished Achievement Awards were first presented in 1955 and have since been awarded to more than 1,000 professionals who have exhibited the highest standards of excellence at Texas A&M.

Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, Associate Professor, joined the faculty of Texas A&M’s Department of Biology in 1983, after earning his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1980. He served five years as the department’s graduate advisor (1993-1998), but has since spent more than two decades carving out his niche in undergraduate education and research. He currently serves as director of the Department of Biology’s Honors Program, which began in fall 2016 and already has more than 150 students. Dr. MacKenzie also serves as co-chair of the Graduate Marine Biology Interdisciplinary Degree Program. Dr. MacKenzie’s research interests revolve around endocrinology, specifically thyroid function and regulation, in red fish and other commercially important fish species. Dr. MacKenzie is well known in the department for numerous achievements, but is certainly a staple for excellence in teaching and mentoring in the department.

Ask his former students, and they repeat the same sentiments: Dr. MacKenzie was the best and most enthusiastic teacher they had during their time at Texas A&M University. Despite teaching complex upper-level courses, students often comment that the challenge of the course was far outweighed by Dr. MacKenzie’s passion and talent for conveying the information in relatable and relevant ways. As students in his courses have mentioned:

“I thoroughly enjoyed the class because of Dr. MacKenzie and his enthusiasm for the field of biology. The joy he brings to the plate is what I hope to have in the future no matter what the venture may be.”

“I really enjoyed this course and the way that it challenged my understanding of the topic. Dr. MacKenzie was an excellent instructor whose passion for the subject came through in each lecture.”

Dr. MacKenzie’s impression on students has not gone unnoticed, he has received two Student Lead Awards for Teaching Excellence, twice before received the Association of Former Students Award for Distinguished Achievement in Teaching, and has also received an Honoring Excellence Award for outstanding support of Texas A&M students and their academic success.

photo of duncan mackenzie and honors studentsDr. MacKenzie’s commitment to his students extends far beyond the classroom. He has served as research advisor to over sixty undergraduate students who have worked in his laboratory. His research students include four University Undergraduate Research Fellows, three Undergraduate Research Scholars, two Minority High School Research Apprentice Program students, one Texas Advanced Technology Program Minority Research Supplement student, and one Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Intern. Twenty of these students have continued on to graduate programs, and thirteen have gone on to medical or veterinary schools. His impact as a mentor on students has lasting effects on the students themselves, and the supporting faculty and staff who are a part of his efforts.

“Not only has Dr. MacKenzie done an incredible job transforming education at the departmental level, he has also taken great care to culminate each student as an individual… Exemplary professors inspire the next generation by being themselves.” -Ashley Hayden, Research Scholar, Class of ’19

“As a staff member in academia, I hope to follow Dr. MacKenzie’s example and empower the students I interact with to become life-long learners and critical thinkers.” -Annabelle Aymond, Program Coordinator for Undergraduate Research in LAUNCH

“I have had the good fortune to have many great professors and mentors throughout my scientific career, but Duncan really stands apart. He is an extraordinary asset to Texas A&M University, both as a lecturer and as a mentor for our next generation of scientists.” -Jennifer McKee-Johnson, Ph.D.

Dr. MacKenzie has taken on multiple leadership roles in undergraduate education that allow him to more broadly apply his talent and impact a greater variety of students on campus. From 2011 to 2016, he was the associate director for undergraduate research in the Honors office (which was renamed LAUNCH in 2015), and at the graduate level, he has been campus co-chair of the graduate interdisciplinary degree program in marine biology. In 2016 he moved his efforts to directing the Biology Honors Program, now over 150 students strong.

photo of duncan mackenzie teachingAs Department Head for Biology Dr. Tom McKnight notes, “Duncan also has been a very effective ambassador for our honors program, talking to students and parents at all 10 new student conferences our department participates in each summer… He also scouts out high-performing students among our 1,400 undergraduate majors who may not be aware of the new honors program and explains the advantages of joining. Fortunately for the program and our students, his success in recruiting is amazingly high.”

Congratulations to Dr. MacKenzie on his well-deserved ASF Distinguished Achievement in Teaching Award! As Dr. McKnight aptly remarks,

“Dr. Duncan MacKenzie has been an outstanding educator and mentor on the Texas A&M campus for 35 years, and in every one of those years, he has had a very positive impact on the education, career, and life of our students. Again, I am astounded by the passionate gratitude that comes across in the support letters from students who worked with Duncan 10, 20, and 30 years ago. Any professor who has that kind of life-long impact on our students is certainly worthy of recognition with the AFS Distinguished Achievement in Teaching award.”.