Teacher for life

Students in Kajal Ghoshroy’s Biology 101 classes might arrive at USC Sumter a little rough around the scholarly edges, but their academic skills evolve quickly under her tutelage.

“Mentoring begins as soon as my students come in to the classroom,” says Ghoshroy, who earned the 2016 John J. Duffy Excellence in Teaching Award. “Sumter is a rural part of our state, and about 70 (percent) to 75 percent of the kids come from very small, regional high schools where they have not been taught how to study, and especially how to study science.”

That will have changed after a class with Ghoshroy, but not because of a gatekeeping sink-or-swim experience. Over the years, Ghoshroy has developed a way of bringing many of her often-underprepared freshmen up to snuff over the course of a semester, teaching good study habits and academic structure along with the biological curriculum. 

Overseeing a classroom largely composed of first-generation college students, Ghoshroy welcomes her charges with a syllabus detailing daily assignment schedules. She approaches complex scientific concepts with real-life examples, introducing gene regulation in microbiology, for example, with a thought experiment about rinsing bacteria down the classroom drain: what genes would be turned on and off as a bacterium finds its environment abruptly change from that of a sink to that of the Sumter sewer system, then the treatment plant, then the Pocotaligo River and finally the Atlantic. 

In her lectures, Ghoshroy promotes a continuous open conversation with her students, which she says enhances engagement and active learning. It also helps them prepare for exams that, in contrast to many others in STEM fields, involve mostly essay questions, with only a quarter multiple choice.

For someone who teaches four classes and more than 150 students every semester, without any help from teaching assistants on grading or laboratory preparation, it makes for a heavy load. But it has helped her build lifelong relationships with students —  including a few who came to Sumter without particularly high aspirations but ended up in medical school — who still keep in touch via email and Facebook. Ghoshroy wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“If they were to lock me down in a lab, I would wither and die,” Ghoshroy says. “I need to be around people, and I love students because many of them come in as open slates, and it’s remarkable to see them mature and grow up. I love teaching.”

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