By Justin Brouckaert, scholastic media assistant
Posted May 22, 2017
Talk a little bit about your current position at Columbia College. What are you currently teaching? What are your current research interests/projects?
I’m currently an associate professor of biology, in my fifth year as a faculty member at Columbia College. I received my bachelor of science in biology from Converse College. I then obtained my PhD in biological sciences from Clemson University while studying the immune response of fish to parasites.
Since joining the faculty at Columbia College in the fall of 2012, I have regularly taught introductory biology for majors and non-majors, human anatomy and physiology, immunology, histology, cell biology and parasitology, in addition to hybrid, online and honors sections of the intro and cell biology courses. I have been a finalist three times for the Student Choice Award, and received the Honors Student Association Faculty Member of the Year Award for 2014-2015. In 2015-2016, I was the college’s recipient of the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Excellence in Teaching Award.
My pedagogical interests include improving the scientific writing of students, as well as promoting active learning in the classroom through the use of the flipped classroom and case studies. Additionally, in the last five years, I have served as a mentor to 18 undergraduate research students, all of who presented unique projects at state and regional meetings.
How did you get involved with SCSPA? In high school, did you know that you were going to pursue a career in science, or were you seriously considering a career in journalism as well? Can you talk about what it was like managing those two interests?
I had a fantastic journalism teacher in high school. Her name is Kim Heath Stokes, and she was full of energy and excitement about our high school newspaper. She encouraged us to be involved in SCSPA as well as SIPA. I remember her taking us to workshops and learning about all that was new and current in high school journalism. Although I served as one of the editors-in-chief (another editor-in-chief who is one of my best friends was actually president of SIPA when I was president of SCSPA) of our high school newspaper, The Palmetto Leaf, I really enjoyed the research and writing that went into writing articles for the paper. I also enjoyed the creative outlet of designing layouts for pages.
For a long time, I knew I wanted to major in biology in college because I loved and was fascinated by everything biology-related. I also knew I wanted to keep writing. I thought, ideally, I could work as a journalist for National Geographic. I went to a small, private college that didn’t have a journalism program, so I majored in biology and minored in English instead.
How do you feel your experiences through SCSPA influenced your career? For example, did attending conference help shape your pedagogy or reading habits, fuel your interest in science writing, etc.?
I think having a leadership position in an organization not tied to my high school (SCSPA) was a transformative experience for me. It opened my eyes to think bigger in regards to opportunities for leadership and involvement in my profession.
One of the major ways being involved in the SCSPA has influenced my pedagogy is reflected in my focus on enhancing the scientific writing skills of my students. In high school, for the most part, students are trained in writing mostly English papers with a specific style. Scientific writing is very different than writing for an English composition course. Writing for a newspaper is also different than most students are used to before they sign up for their first journalism course. There is a sort of indoctrination into the profession (of science, of journalism, etc.) that has to take place before the students’ writing can become strong. I'm not sure I would have made that connection with my own students if I didn’t have the journalism background.
What are your favorite memories from SCSPA events? What experiences stick with you today?
I remember the camaraderie from other students. Attending these conferences as a high school student was like going to a totally different world. I remember the speech I gave when I ran for SCSPA president. I remember looking out at what seemed like hundreds of students who did not know me who basically had to vote for me based on how much they liked my speech. I remember one of the workshop instructors from Andrew Jackson HS who was hilarious and so good as a journalism instructor. At the time, USC offered a full journalism scholarship to one SC high school student who wrote and submitted an original story. I actually did apply for that scholarship, but did not win. His students always won that scholarship.
What advice do you have for scholastic journalists coming up through SCSPA? Especially those with interests reaching beyond journalism.
It is such a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to an academic conference of sorts at such a young age. Many students I have worked with through the years do not have the opportunity to attend a conference or large professional meeting until they are in graduate school. Even if you aren’t sure you want to go into journalism as a career, there are many excellent opportunities to be had by being a member of this group including learning how to network and meet new people with similar interests as well as leadership opportunities. You never know what doors could be opened through this experience!