Educator of the Year

Yen-Pei Christy ChangYen-Pei Christy Chang, PhD, MS

School of Medicine
Associate Professor, Department of Medicine

Whether it’s teaching genetics to first-year PhD students, mentoring graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, or coaching junior faculty members on how to improve their writing skills, Yen-Pei Christy Chang leaves an impression on her audience.

Chang’s lectures and presentations are not only enlightening, they also are engrossing and entertaining. Here are just a few examples of feedback from students or notes of appreciation after presentations by the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) associate professor:

“Dr. Chang was the saving grace for this course for me. She was so energetic, entertaining, and organized with her lectures.”

You are only the second person in my 15 years involved in research to make the grant writing process seem accessible, feasible, and transparent.”

“Dr. Chang, please don’t ever stop with the amazing analogies. Beyond being funny, they actually do help us remember the concepts and material.”

“Her lectures flow well and bring in all the topics together. She is just a wonderful woman. I want her to be my best friend.”

Chang says she feels grateful and deeply moved when hearing such praise for her work, which has earned her recognition as the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) 2023 Founders Week Educator of the Year.

One of my strengths as an educator is that I’m relatable and approachable,” said Chang, who holds appointments in three UMSOM departments: Medicine; Epidemiology and Public Health; and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “Students who are quiet in other lectures are more likely to ask questions in mine. It’s empowering for them to see a soft-spoken person of color holding everyone’s attention in a classroom and doing so with wit and compassion.”

Chang has been instrumental in how genetics is taught to UMSOM first-year PhD students from the Graduate Program in Life Sciences (GPILS) and PhD students from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. In 2007, she updated and redesigned the genetics curriculum and has served as the GPILS core course section leader for genetics for six years.

Chang’s lectures take a mutation-to-treatment approach. They also link molecular changes and genetic diseases to historical events and sociopolitical issues. Braxton D. Mitchell, PhD, MPH, professor, Department of Medicine, UMSOM, who nominated Chang for the UMB award, offered examples.

“Dr. Chang’s lectures frequently combine the latest findings in genetics with the art of storytelling,” he said. “For instance, her lecture on genomic imprinting starts with the Dutch famine of 1944-45 and epigenetic changes in genes that regulate metabolism. To introduce students to the legal implication of genetic findings and intellectual property as a career option for PhDs, she partnered with a Francis King Carey School of Law colleague to discuss how breast cancer genes were discovered and the 2013 Supreme Court ruling against patenting genes.”

Mitchell, who has worked with Chang since she joined UMSOM in 2005, added, “I have long witnessed her passion for teaching and mentoring. She clearly enjoys teaching and without question is outstanding at it.”

Chang says she is inspired by how much the field of human genetics has accomplished in the timespan of her career, and adds that two of her favorite topics to lecture about are sickle cell disease and scientific communication.

“On sickle cell, not only do I use some of my earlier work, but I also use this genetic disease to illustrate and tie together many concepts, from gene regulation to our relationship with parasites to the latest gene-based therapy,” she said. “With scientific communication, regardless of a student’s specialty, everyone needs to learn how to share complex information and give a good talk. The ability to inform and entertain others with our work makes our careers so much more fulfilling.”

Chang also directs the KL2 Mentored Career Development Program at UMB’s Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and mentors junior faculty from the schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work.

As senior program advisor for UMSOM’s Center for Advanced Research Training and Innovation, she hosts grant writing workshops and classes for students, faculty, postdocs, and administrators from UMB and other local and national universities. In addition, she provides individual grant writing consultations to faculty members. In the last three years, she has worked closely with 47 UMB faculty on grant writing and assisted many of them with obtaining highly competitive funding from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations.

John D. Sorkin, MD, PhD, professor, Department of Medicine, can attest to Chang’s skills as a writing coach.

“A junior faculty member whose native language is not English worked with Dr. Chang on improving his writing for grants and research papers,” he said. “When I saw his most recent grant application, I was amazed. The change since the last grant was not just a minor improvement, but rather a large quantum leap. With Dr. Chang’s help, our junior faculty have a much better chance of receiving research support.”

While she continues to teach, Chang also continues to learn. In 2022, she added a master’s degree in clinical professional counseling from Loyola University Maryland to her academic résumé, which includes a bachelor’s degree in biology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a PhD in human genetics and molecular biology from Johns Hopkins University. Chang also studied the art of storytelling to enhance her teaching and writing. One of her stories about modern-day migration was featured by National Public Radio’s “Stoop Storytelling Series.”

Chang has earned numerous other honors for her teaching and mentoring skills, including UMSOM’s Faculty Teacher of the Year Award in 2015, 2016, and 2019 (Division of Endocrinology), the Faculty Mentoring Award from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in 2017, and the Department of Medicine Chairman’s Special Award in 2023 for mentoring KL2 scholars from five UMB schools.

Regarding the UMB Educator of the Year accolade, Chang says she was “surprised, amazed, and incredibly honored” to be recognized and that it affirms her commitment to contribute to the growth and transformation of her students and mentees.

“I want students and mentees not to limit their future selves, and this is especially true for women and people of color,” Chang said. “I want them to see skills that they are not confident with as skills that they will acquire, with my help if needed. It’s a wonderful win whenever someone who used to view an academic career as impossible to attain attends my classes and reconsiders their career options.”

— Lou Cortina