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Mohamed Noor: 'What Matters to Me and Why'

With an enthusiastic demeanor and contagious laughter, Professor Mohamed Noor shared his experiences about his noted career studying evolution and genetics during the latest faculty speaker series called "What Matters to Me and Why."

Noor is the Earl D. McLean Professor and chair of biology, specializing in evolution, genetics and genomics. Recently, he won the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award for being a pioneer in online education and innovative professor and researcher. The series brings together Duke students with faculty, staff, and administrators who are willing to discuss their personal values and beliefs.

Noor's encounter with an inspirational professor as an undergraduate shaped the way he approaches his lessons and engages his students. In his junior year at the College of William and Mary, Noor took an evolutionary genetics class with a professor who "just made me love the subject," he said. "It wasn't just his class. Part of it was the one-on-one time he was spending with me in the lab. He would sit there for at least an hour a week, if not more, just talking about science and getting me excited about science."

Noor said he tries to pass along the same inspiration and guidance to his students. He said he is concerned these opportunities are becoming more rare.  "I think college has gone off the rails," he said. "I think college has become more of just a hoop: I've got to do this because that's the only way I can get a job and then after that I can go do what I really want to do."

In the discussion that followed, students echoed his concern.  They also asked about the value and purposes of grades and course requirements. "I don't actually think the grades have anything to do with your learning," Noor said. "I think it's made to stratify people.

"When you think of a driving test, you either know how to drive or don't know how to drive. What happens if you don’t know how to drive? You take it again until you do understand it! If we say that our purpose in academia is to educate people, why aren't tests more like driving tests?"