Making Learning Relevant
Shannon McDermott, a Ph.D. candidate in Genetics and Genomics, received a B.S. in Genetic Engineering from Cedar Crest College. The title of her dissertation is "Genetic basis of hybrid sterility and meiotic drive in Drosophila persimilis and Drosophila pseudoobscura," a work that helps explain how organisms can become different species.
In her teaching philosophy statement, Shannon expresses her observation that "Too often, students are introduced to scientific concepts with no mention of why they are relevant." Her teaching style, based on this, leads to her "overall goal to leave students with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about the science affecting their lives," which requires that "they must know more than basic facts—they should have a deeper understanding of the underlying logic." To promote an understanding of the underlying logic, she strives to make topics relevant to students by allowing them "to make connections on their own by encouraging their participation in the learning process."
Students respond very positively to her teaching style, one stating that she is "The model TA," one who is "enthusiastic, fun, accessible and professional. She has enhanced my interest in and love for biology." Shannon uses a variety of teaching methods to ensure her student's success, which does not go unnoticed by them, as one points out, "I appreciated how she tried different lesson methods to find out which worked best for our section," finding her "warm and eager to help." Many student evaluations shared the belief that "She is wonderful and will make a great professor someday."
Shannon has been diligent in her preparation for this role, taking several Graduate School courses and workshops on course and syllabus design and on teaching strategies, including several Teaching IDEAS workshops, the Teaching Triangles program, and the Preparing Future Faculty Program. She is also currently completing the Duke University Certificate in Teaching College Biology. Shannon has further extended her teaching experience through her involvement with Durham Technical Community College, working as both an adjunct lab instructor and a guest lecturer. It is important to note, as one faculty member says, that all of these activities were accomplished not at anyone's request, but that "it was purely Shannon's initiative and interest to do so. She took a lot away from these experiences and began independently applying many active-learning strategies to her discussion and laboratory sections." Also notable is that, when given basic introductory material to use in her lab sections, "Shannon took it as a very basic skeleton, and created a far more in-depth and superior presentation to begin her laboratory sections, thus giving her students the best understanding possible." This is why "her students uniformly gave her some of the best TA evaluations in the course, and students from other laboratory sections would make appointments with her because they had heard stories of ‘the great TA'."
Shannon combines the best qualities of both an excellent instructor and a "stellar researcher," one who has "been successful in completing and publishing high-quality research with a level of rigor that is top-notch despite how intensive her projects have been," and "an extraordinary teacher who has earned a tremendous amount of respect from her faculty mentors, as well as the students themselves."