An interest in teaching smaller classes in order to foster greater student interaction is part of what brought Ithaca resident Laurel Hester to a new post at Keuka College this fall.
The small-college feel got in the assistant professor of biology’s veins during her own undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College, where she double-majored in biology and history. As a graduate student, Hester discovered she had a love of teaching, especially teaching biology, and as she worked toward her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, she began putting that passion into play. She went on to teach at the University of South Carolina, and later Cornell, where she taught as many as 400 students at a time in large lecture halls.
“The chance to teach smaller classes where I can really get to know the students and teach a wider variety of classes in a more interactive way is really what drew me here,” Hester said.
Hester’s research as a graduate student focused on questions of how an animal’s physiology permits it to live in a particular environment. In her case, that focus was in research on the black-capped chickadee. This fall, she is teaching three lab sections of Neuroanatomy and Physiology, working primarily with upperclassmen in the occupational therapy program.
“I’m excited about getting a chance to teach this topic and to teach it to students who bring their own expertise to the classroom from their Field Period internships,” she said. “I have the biology expertise I’m bringing to the classroom and I’m trying to connect that to their expertise. Many of them have seen patients with neurological disorders or deficits, and bringing that experience to the course.”
In the spring, Hester will teach a course on mammalian anatomy and another in human biology.
“The thing I really like about teaching human biology is that I think all of us have an innate interest in our own biology,” she said. “We inhabit our own bodies, so it’s fun to teach people more about something so close to them.”
In the following academic year, Hester will teach a vertebrate physiology course, and said she is looking forward to both the diversity of courses and students, who include OT and social work majors and, of course, biology majors.
“It’ll be nice to interact with all those groups of students on campus,” she said.
In coming years, Hester said she’ll be eager to research grant opportunities to bring more equipment to the program that could be used for both individual research and classroom instruction. She is also exploring what partnerships might be possible to develop with local high school science teachers and students, such as those involved in AP Biology courses at high school.
Hester will also be the subject matter expert for a human biology course that’s part of Keuka’s Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) and said she is eager to collaborate with ASAP instructors to determine the best methods for teaching human biology, whether by online delivery or face-to-face.
“That circles around, long-term, to using data to inform teaching. It might be nice to get some data in terms of comparison between those different courses, what works and what doesn’t in different formats.”
Hester holds a B.A. in biology and history from Swarthmore, and both her master’s and Ph.D. in biology from the University of Michigan.