One of the most rewarding parts of my job is getting to teach students at George Mason University. I currently teach labs for EVPP 110 (Intro to Environmental Science) and previously taught BIO 103 (Intro to Biology). These classes are geared toward non-STEM majors, although it’s becoming more common to see science majors in them too. We do a lot of group work, which is great because students with different interests and experiences can contribute in their own ways.
Because students come into class with different majors and backgrounds in science, I’ve found that my job is often part lab instructor, part motivation speaker and part ambassador for the department and science in general (Fig. 1). The reward is in seeing students make connections between these courses and their own professional development.
Fig. 1. Teaching science labs to non-STEM majors.
These classes have been described by journalist Meagan Milligan as being among the easiest at GMU. I don’t quite see it that way — my students work very, very hard, going from learning about the scientific method to being able to design, implement, run, analyze and discuss their own experiments within 15 weeks. (I certainly appreciate the article though — it’s gotten more students to sign up for these classes!)
Everything we do is hands-on, plus we are outside about a quarter of the time. I’m always impressed with the dedication and creativity of my students in coming up with solutions to challenges that arise in lab. Whether or not these are the easiest classes, they are certainly some of the most fun.
On October 30th 2017, Michael, one of my students, caught this bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) in the Mason Pond. Thank you to Cindy for taking the picture — I added a 4X zoom to make it easier to see. That day, we also identified trees around campus, including sugar maples, red maples, cherry trees, eastern red cedars, a blue spruce, tulip trees, white oaks, flowering dogwoods, crepe myrtles, a white pine, American holly trees, a southern magnolia and a couple of cottonwoods. We are fortunate to have a campus with such an array of biodiversity!
Water density experiments in the lab on November 6th, 2017. The food coloring is used to differentiate water at varying temperatures and salinity. Thank you to Lydia for taking this photo!
I offer extra credit field trips for all students enrolled in EVPP 110 and EVPP 111. (Yes, you can attend and get points even if you are not in my class section). We go out to great places like Huntley Meadows Park, Great Falls National Park, Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve and the U.S. Botanic Garden.
From our April 7th, 2017 trip to Huntley Meadows Park, here’s a muskrat’s-eye-view of wildlife photography. The full story about this picture is available on the archives. It won an award in a photography contest and was featured on the Environmental Science & Policy website!
In September 2017, I was invited to the Stearns Center’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference, where I shared my experiences teaching introductory science courses. (Click the image to see the poster itself.)
In October 2017, I gave a presentation on American eel conservation at the meeting of the North Carolina State University Student Fisheries Society. I’m always happy to share my work with students wherever I go.
I’m also a teaching assistant for EVPP 430 — Fundamentals of GIS. This presentation, from October 17th 2017, covers an overview of my research, some of the ways I’ve been using ArcGIS and the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last two years.
In Spring 2018 I began a partnership with the GMU Writing Center as a science writing specialist. My goal is to help students preserve the content of their work while make it accessible to the widest possible audience.
One of my proudest accomplishments is to have earned the highest possible teaching evaluation scores on three occasions. (See also some kind words written by a student).
On the 2017 Patriot Success Surveys, at least one student picked me as “person on campus who has helped them the most in their college success.”
If you like my class, please let GMU know! You can fill out the “Thank-A-Teacher” form from the Stearns Center, or leave a review on Rate My Professor. ANY feedback will be much appreciated so I can make my classes even better.
If you are a former student, feel free to contact me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you’ve been up to! I’ll be happy to help you by serving as a reference or writing a letter of recommendation on your job application. If you’re looking for something in environmental science or conservation then you should definitely contact me because I often know of opportunities for students and recent graduates 🙂
More field trip photos
All the more reason to join us on field trips 🙂 All photos (C) Rachel Silarszka.