By Jane Brewer, USC Salkehatchie
The John J. Duffy Excellence in Teaching Award is a USC Palmetto College campus award given to recognize outstanding teaching.
The current recipient is Dr. Eran Kilpatrick, an associate professor of biology at USC Salkehatchie.
Jane Brewer recently sat down with Kilpatrick for a Q&A to discuss his interests, experience and joy for teaching.
JB: What made you decide to become a college professor?
EK: As an undergraduate I had several opportunities to teach and conduct research, and honestly, I loved doing these things.
For the majority of my undergraduate career I worked as a wildlife research technician for Dr. Hugh Hanlin, a professor of biology and herpetologist at USC Aiken. My mentors, which included professors, graduate students and even family members, were great teachers themselves so I learned not only the technical specifics related to my field, but also a great deal about positive communication and networking. My senior year, I worked as a science teacher intern at the U.S. Forest Service branch of the Savannah River Site. I took advantage of any opportunity I had to teach and learn. From these experiences I received a great deal of positive feedback and I saw how the students I taught became really excited about science.
JB: Why biology?
EK: I have been interested in nature for as long as I can remember. As a kid growing up in the Sandhills of Aiken County, natural areas and a diversity of flora and fauna were close at hand. My interests were always encouraged at home as I was allowed to keep just about any scaly or slimy creature. The only rule was no venomous snakes. By the end of middle school my bedroom, and an entire wall near the living room of the house, was full of aquariums with everything from native fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. I made all sorts of observations and notes for each species and kept these in a journal. Naturalists, like Rudy Mancke, were role models and the television series, NatureScene, was a favorite. As a high school student I realized majoring in biology would be the first step towards a career in the study of wildlife and natural history.
JB: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
EK: When my students realize that learning biology really goes beyond the classroom, and when I see them get so interested that they find a particular topic that they want to pursue as a career.
Having an opportunity to serve as a positive mentor in the ways that were provided to me as a student. Having a class of completely new students, many just out of high school, and providing them with the foundation they need to be successful.
JB: Teaching a great student is fun. How do you get fired up about teaching a not so strong student?
EK: By knowing that I can provide that one encouraging grade, opportunity to discuss their concerns, send a positive email, or have a conversation so a student can realize their potential. I remember being an undergraduate biology major. I have felt the anxiety experienced by many of my students as they work through their first year of college, feel overwhelmed during a lecture, or even fail an exam. I know a student can be successful if they are as serious about their own success as I am.
JB: Do you really go out in the middle of the night and count frogs?
EK: Yes! A number of amphibian species that I study are most active at night so I have spent just as much time out at night working on projects as I have during the daylight hours. There’s just something about sampling fauna in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, that I find really enjoyable.
JB: I’ve seen lots of pictures of you in waders out in the swamp. How does that tie into your research?
EK: I spend hundreds of hours each year, with colleagues and students, sampling reptiles and amphibians in wetland habitats all across the Carolinas. Waders are just as important in my field of study as glassware is to a chemist. Waders keep you dry, which is particularly important in the winter months, and they save your legs from being cut and scraped by debris, thick brush, and briars.