Brian Helmke
Associate professor Brian Helmke received the University of Virginia Alumni Association's Distinguished Professor Award. (Contributed photo)

Among the most prestigious awards a faculty member can receive at the University of Virginia is the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Professor Award. It celebrates those professors who, in the words of the award’s criteria, show “unusual concern for students” and who ultimately make “a significant contribution to the life of the University.” This year’s honoree was Brian P. Helmke, an associate professor in the department of biomedical engineering.

The award was conferred in April at the University’s annual teaching awards ceremony with remarks from Richard Gard, the vice president for communications for UVA Alumni Association. Here is an excerpt from his remarks: 

“Brian Helmke is a national leader not just in biomedical engineering but in how it’s taught. The subject matter is dense and imposing. Different students come to it with different levels of readiness and understanding. Dr. Helmke meets them where they are, with a distinctively human touch. He mentors and coaches them to thrive.

“As he puts it, ‘Any student … who feels supported will also feel like they have control over their learning, like they belong on their professional path, and like they are capable of achieving their goals.’

“Integral to his teaching method has been a warm embrace of diversity, of making everyone feel included, welcomed, valued and poised for success.

“Dr. Helmke is known for the little things. He learns every student’s name early on, no matter how large the class. He regularly asks students how they are — and he cares about the answer, enough to hear the cues and inquire further. He takes regular breaks for mindfulness and even a joke of the day.

“Sometimes it’s the big things, like taking on the mentorship of 24 undergraduates in the last three years alone. And mentoring his colleagues on teaching practices.

“His personal care for students as individuals has had a ripple effect on the quality of education in his department, at this University and in biomedical engineering generally.

“For these and so many other reasons, the University of Virginia Alumni Association is honored to confer the 2024 Distinguished Professor Award to Brian Helmke.” 

In addition to the Distinguished Professor Award, this spring Helmke was honored with UVA’s Jefferson Scholars Foundation’s Hartfield Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given to faculty members committed to imbuing students with a passion for learning. Recently, he became a fellow of two professional societies in the field of biomedical engineering, the Biomedical Engineering Society and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

UVA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering is a joint program of the School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science.