What brought you to Hood College?
Dr. Kathy Falkenstein, whom I met while I was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Fort Detrick, encouraged me to teach part-time during the 1993-1994 academic year. This opportunity opened my eyes to the world of teaching – helping students understand biology and to promote scientific citizenship.
What do you value most about your relationship with students?
That I respect every student as an individual. Each, like myself, has strengths and weaknesses. I strive to work with each one – so each can have success learning the broad concepts of biology. My goal is to build an environment of student engagement and trust in my classes where students become eager and responsible learners – hopefully, long after they have completed my course.
Why is teaching your dream job?
It offers me the opportunity to help students understand the complexity of our biological world, from the macromolecules that build cells to the impact of biotechnology on our planet. Hopefully, students who complete my courses have a greater appreciation and interest in biology – leading to informed students (citizens) who will make sound decisions about the scientific and ethical issues that impact our lives.
If you were to consider another career, what would you consider and why?
If I were not teaching biology, I would love to be an instructor at a “fly fishing school,” including teaching classes on fly tying. I love the challenge of tying a pattern and the reward of catching (and releasing!) fish. Fly fishing also makes me appreciate how important it is to protect our environment. Each time I fish, I am reminded how precious and important our environment is. This school would have a curriculum to support environmental biology and stewardship and involve outreach activities for elementary students.
Describe your approach to teaching?
If I could borrow a baseball phrase – I approach each lecture as “you are only as good as your next at bat.” In other words – I continually strive to make adjustments in how I organize and present the complex topics of biology knowing that each time l enter a lecture room I have to capture and maintain the interest of students. Whether I use the “whiteboard” or “blackboard” – I strive to share topics with enthusiasm, knowledge, and a little humor (of course!). I really enjoy teaching BIOL 113 – “Newsstand Biology” because it allows me to help students uncover (understand) the biology that is present in everyday news articles, and therefore, our everyday lives.
What is/are your most memorable moment/s at Hood?
One of my most memorable moments was a lab activity a few years ago conducted with our BIOL 113 – “Newsstand Biology” students. Each semester, we create a “crime scene” making creative use of students in the lab – including a student “victim” and several student “suspects.” To investigate the crime, we do a mock DNA analysis of student samples. These samples include the DNA found under the finger nails of the victim – who had scratched their assailant – and DNA samples taken from the suspects. One semester, I made a mistake distributing the DNA samples to students for this activity. When we analyzed the DNA samples by gel electrophoresis, there was only one conclusion – that the victim met their demise by scratching them self to death. Much to my chagrin and embarrassment – this was, of course, not a possible outcome! – the students had a very good laugh. I was humbled – and I had very good laugh with them!
On a more academic note – some of my most memorable moments have been the students I have conducted research with on independent studies and with Hood’s Summer Science Research Institute. Over the years, four of these student-scholars have received awards at the Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences hosted by UMBC and sponsored by NIH. It has been a wonderful opportunity to mentor these students and to watch them evolve as young inquisitive scientists. Working with students on these projects inspires me as a Hood faculty member!
Describe your academic interests and research?
I am very interested in the biology and gene expression strategies of plant viruses that are transmitted by insects – research that is an ongoing collaboration with Hood students and plant biology scientists with the USDA-ARS at Fort Detrick.
My academic interests include a commitment to improve the laboratory teaching experience of biology undergraduates. I am an active member of the Association of Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE). In collaboration with Dr. Kathy Falkenstein, we have a recent paper (and companion lab activity) published in the 2010 Proceedings of ABLE – peer reviewed by 20 college and university educators from the U.S. and Canada at the 32nd Annual ABLE conference hosted by Halifax University in Nova Scotia. This paper describes the teaching activity we developed for our BIOL 203 lab curriculum that employs DNA fingerprinting to help students understand the link between genotype and phenotype in genetic crosses of fruit flies.
When you aren’t working, what are you doing in your spare time?
I love to cook and fish – rumor has it, I make some of the best-tasting mashed potatoes in Frederick! I also have a passion for fly fishing, tying flies, and telling fish stories (lies of course!). By the way, please do not have the impression that I am a very good fisherman. Hood’s other fly-fishing faculty – Dr. Ann Boyd, Dr. Kevin Bennett, Dr. Drew Ferrier, and Dr. David Hein – catch and (and release!) 10 fish, for every fish I have told a tale about!
Name three books that you would recommend everyone read:
“The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan – a very interesting background and commentary on the human desire for beauty (tulips), intoxication (marijuana), sweetness (apples), and control (potatoes).
“A Good Life Wasted or Twenty Years as a Fishing Guide” by David Ames – a humorous account of fly fishing and what it must be like to serve as a fly fishing guide.
“Genome – The Autobiography of Species in 23 Chapters” by Matt Ridley – a great read on the topic of our human condition controlled by the chromosomes (DNA) we inherit – the software that truly programs our human cells.
If you would like to contact Professor Smith, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.