What brought you to Hood College?
As a graduate student and then for a year after my post-doctoral studies I got the chance to teach and I found it to be very rewarding. So, when I was looking for a job, I wanted to teach, have an opportunity to continue some research and hopefully land in the greater Baltimore-Washington area. The position at Hood was ideal!
What do you value most about your relationship with graduate students?
I most value when I can work with a student one-on-one and really see their intellectual growth. Most often this is when a student is working in the lab on their thesis research or preparing their mock grant proposal, but sometimes it arises when we are discussing some paper or question that came up in class. It’s rewarding to see a student’s face lights up with the understanding of a new concept.
What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching in the graduate school at Hood?
Teaching means you have to be constantly learning yourself. This keeps you engaged, curious and in some ways helps you stay young. Earlier in my career at Hood the professor teaching the microbiology course retired and the biology department needed someone to take on the class. Being an eager junior faculty member I quickly volunteered, even though I was by no means a microbiologist by training. I found that I truly loved the field and that having to learn the material alongside my students made it that much more exciting for me. For that reason I like to add new papers each semester that I teach a course—it keeps me learning along with the rest of the class.
Describe your approach to teaching.
First you have to engage students—without that you can’t expect much good to come out of a class. So one of the things I spend a lot of time on is thinking about the most engaging, interesting way I can convey the information. I am generally very excited about the material I teach and I think this quickly becomes evident to my students and hopefully is contagious. The other key goal of course is to get everyone thinking and to move beyond rote memorization.
What is/are your most memorable moment/s at Hood?
One specific moment and a general fondness for a particular summer stand out to me. The specific moment was when I got the call offering me the position. I was overwhelmed with happiness and I vowed never to forget that feeling. On days when things aren’t going so well (and there are a few) I try to channel the joy I felt after that phone call. Several years ago I had some grant money to support Chacko Chakiath, M.S. ’11, and Don Condliffe, two graduate students, with research fellowships. That summer the three of us worked in the lab full time together and we had some great successes with the work. It was one of the most satisfying and exhilarating times of my life.
Describe your academic interests, research, professional interests or expertise.
My research interests focus on the directed evolution of enzymes. Specifically, students working with me have been trying to produce enzymes that would be suitable for use in biofuels applications. We hope our modified enzymes will help turn agricultural wastes like sugarbeet pulp into fuel.
When you aren’t teaching, what are you doing in your spare time?
In my spare time I enjoy gardening and watching baseball, both the Orioles and my children’s games. I also like to cook, especially using herbs from my garden.
What are three books that you would recommend everyone read?
“The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, “Venus on the Halfshell” by Kilgore Trout.