Affected by a misshapen voice box, David Gilkey was told by doctors he shouldn’t be able to speak, let alone teach. Now, after more than a decade of delivering lectures on environmental health, Gilkey has been nationally recognized for his leadership and teaching.
“As a student, it’s fun to interact with faculty who are so passionate about undergraduate education,” said Jeff Seligman, environmental health senior. “He is excited to see students learning and engaging in his classes. He knows how to grasp his students’ interests.”
Gilkey is an associate professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. His office walls are adorned with teaching awards, but his most recent is among the most notable: Gilkey received the 2014 Jack B. Hatlen Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs.
“I remember reading the email before heading to the association’s conference,” Gilkey said. “I wrote back, ‘I hope this isn’t a joke.’”
The award recognizes Gilkey’s leadership within the academic organization and his tireless service to environmental health education.
In one of his roles, Gilkey assesses dozens of undergraduate and graduate academic programs at universities nationwide and helps determine whether they warrant re-accreditation from the National Health Sciences and Protection Accreditation Council.
“It allows me to pair CSU against our counterparts, note our strengths and weaknesses, and improve our own program,” Gilkey said.
With that perspective, it’s fitting Gilkey is the undergraduate program director for the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.
From injury treatment to prevention
He came to academia as a second career in the late 1990s. After working for 15 years as a certified chiropractor, Gilkey’s interest shifted to injury prevention rather than treatment; he came to CSU to study ergonomics.
Gilkey now is a certified professional ergonomist and is an expert in preventing all-terrain vehicle accidents. He has been highly visible in educating the public about ATV danger prevention through workshops and interviews with news media.
“It’s all about helping people,” Gilkey said. “I became more interested in helping people avoid the injuries I would see every day as a chiropractor, and now I’m helping students solidify their goals of doing the same.”
But Gilkey wasn’t sure he was cut out for the job when he was asked to carry a substantial teaching load as a Ph.D. student.
“I never thought I would be a teacher because I can’t project my voice,” Gilkey said, referring to his congenitally malformed larynx, which causes his voice to be both quiet and raspy.
Modern technology allows him to overcome vocal problems. Gilkey wears a microphone while teaching, and his students come alive during class.
“Thanks to microphones and modern technology, I discovered that it wasn’t only a possibility for me to teach, but I was pretty good at it too,” Gilkey said.
He is known among students for engaging presentations and taking an interest.
“He gets to know his students on a personal basis,” said Cori Ocanas, environmental health senior. “He knows who you are and what you want to do, and he gives you the tools to make it happen.”
“The most exciting thing to me is working with students. I come to work every day surrounded by amazing people filled with energy and enthusiasm,” Gilkey said. “Being a professor is the best job in the world.”