The SpongeBob-costumed student who appeared at Liz Applegate's last Nutrition 10 lecture last Thursday (June 2) offered a fitting tribute. The cartoon character exemplifies how Applegate worked to engage her students — 60,000-plus of them over 31 years — with references they knew. In fact, her first extra credit question in 1999 was, “Who is SpongeBob’s best friend?”
“Kind of silly, I know, but I wanted students to feel good that they knew the answer,” Applegate explained.
Applegate, a senior lecturer in the Department of Nutrition, has taught Nutrition 10 since 1985. She recently reflected on her long run with the class at a different kind of lecture filled with family, friends and colleagues. Going forward, she will no longer teach the class every quarter, instead developing an online-only version for future instructors. She will remain the director of sports nutrition in Intercollegiate Athletics.
A dedicated teacher from the start
Applegate’s tenure at UC Davis started in 1974, when she arrived as an undergraduate studying biochemistry. After she received her Ph.D. in the 1980s, she stayed on to teach. Nutrition 10, offered every quarter, is now the largest class on campus.
With such a track record, Applegate marveled that much has changed in the past handful of decades. She outlined the many methods she used — from clear transparencies on overhead projectors and writing on chalkboards to PowerPoint slides on a laptop computer — to present her lectures.
Her biggest goal, she said, was to recognize what information to include — and what to throw out. She often uses simple analogies to represent complex topics and even explains concepts in cartoon formats.
“With a basic general education course, don’t explain too much,” Applegate said. “Ask yourself if they really need to know this. Is this going to help them take care of themselves and like science? If the answer is ‘probably not,’ then get rid of it.”
Francene M. Steinberg, professor and chair of the nutrition department, noted that Applegate’s approach has made her a standout instructor.
“She engages students and makes a huge impact on their lives,” Steinberg said. “She does more than just convey information. She shows them the impact and relevance of nutrition on their lives.”
Nutrition 10 was named best GE course by students in 2007. Applegate attributed some of the class’s popularity to her team of TAs — usually about 10 of them — who help make the class lively and fun. (They are known for creating game show-like quizzes and handing out prizes.)
Commemorating a job well done
On the occasion of Applegate’s last Nutrition 10 lecture, Steinberg and the nutrition department, as well as the class’s many TAs, unveiled their big surprise: a balloon bouquet, flowers, video tribute and an appearance by the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh.
The surprise was carefully planned because Applegate is an expert planner and always on guard.
Case in point: In 1992, two streakers showed up in her packed classroom. The naked men wore only gorilla masks and proceeded to do a dance before leaving.
“The class was out of control, and from that point forward, I knew that you literally have to be prepared for anything,” she said.
Now, she added, she can relax — and eat some doughnuts.