City of residence: Dickinson
Current title: Associate professor of biology
Place of business: College of the Mainland
Education: Master of Science in Biology from Sam Houston State University
Family: Married to Matt Abernathy, 8 years, with one amazing son, Sam, who is 6 years old
Professional responsibilities: As an associate professor of biology, I teach between six to 10 biology courses a year. These classes include General Biology for Science Majors I and II, General Biology for Non-Science Majors I and II, Microbiology, and Nutrition. In addition, I am the lead instructor for our General Biology courses and oversee that the courses meet state standards and the laboratory portion of these courses have required supplies. Along with my duties as an instructor, I also serve as the chair of our honors program and work with faculty across the campus to offer our students an opportunity to earn honors credit in their college courses. I am a co-advisor of the Science Club on campus and work with club members on volunteer projects around the community, such as Adopt-a-Beach. I also work with the Texas Master Naturalists to grow coastal prairie plants in the college's greenhouse to help restore coastal prairie habitat at such locations as the Texas City Prairie Preserve, Armand Bayou Nature Center and others.
Accomplishments/honors: While working at COM, I have been awarded two grants. The first grant was from Texas New Mexico Power for the purchase of 20 pairs of binoculars to be used by students on campus for bird watching, wildlife surveys and other activities. The second grant came from Dow to help improve our greenhouse facility on campus for the partnership with the Texas Master Naturalists.
Community involvement: Throughout my time at COM, I have worked with the Texas Master Naturalists to help restore coastal prairie habitat and teach our students about the importance of this habitat and why they should continue to help with the restoration. I involve students in programs like Adopt-a-Beach to help clean up trash at our adopted section of beach on Galveston Island. I take students on trips to various locations in our area, such as the Texas City Prairie Preserve, Galveston Island State Park and Armand Bayou Nature Center to learn about the ecosystem and volunteer to clean up trash or help with plantings. I also worked with Audubon Texas to involve students in helping restore rookery islands in Galveston Bay.
Why did you go into your particular field?
During my undergraduate and graduate work at SHSU, I worked as a lab teaching assistant and taught various lab courses including general biology, zoology and botany. I also had the opportunity to work as a lecturer at SHSU for non-majors biology and environmental science. I enjoyed teaching and helping students learn about biology. Seeing students reach the “ah-ha” or “eureka” moment in my classes was one of the most rewarding things about teaching biology.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Honestly, I don’t remember thinking about growing up as a child. I was having too much fun being a kid and going fishing with my Grandpa or helping him in his wood working shop.
What was your first job?
After finishing my graduate degree, I started working at Jesse H. Jones Park and Nature Center in Humble. I did a great deal of outdoor educational programs for all ages. My graduate work focused on birds, so a lot of programs I gave related to birding. I learned a great deal about horticulture and protecting native habitat for wildlife while working at the park and I bring that knowledge into the classroom. Some of my favorite programs were the monthly bird walks and the summer program we did for 5- and 6-year-olds. The younger children were so fascinated with even the smallest bit of nature, such as roly polies and would sometimes spend 20 minutes gathering as many roly polies as they could find.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“If you FAIL, never give up because F.A.I.L. means ‘First Attempt in Learning’” – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. I am not sure where I came across this, but I have it posted in my office to remind me and my students that failing does not mean the end. I have had many setbacks in life, both personal and professional, and this quote helps me remember to always keep moving forward no matter what the setback.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
I really enjoy getting to know my students and seeing them become excited about biology. Often, students come through my classroom with no real interest in biology, and I try to relate the topics to their everyday lives and show them the importance of the protecting our natural environment. One of the most rewarding moments is when a student tells me about seeing a specific animal or plant that they had learned about in class and how they were able to tell their friends or family all about it. Knowing that I can make an impact on their lives and help them better understand the need to protect our natural resources makes me love my job.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?
When a person starts out in the field of education, it seems they are always told to be tough from the beginning because that is the only way to get the respect of students. I was told this a few times in my career. I tried this method but always felt as if I were pretending to be something I am not. Through my years teaching, I have learned that it is better to just be myself. I discovered that students relate better to a professor who is straightforward and honest. Not to say that I am not tough, but I believe I earn the respect of my students by giving them the real me.
Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor and why?
One of my greatest mentors would have to be my graduate advisor, Dr. Diane Neudorf. She pushed me to always learn more and work hard throughout my graduate degree and even today. We have kept in touch and have remained close friends. Her mentoring and friendship has gotten me where I am today. I also see my little boy as a mentor in my life. He has taught me to appreciate all of the small things in life and helps me to see life from a different (and much better) perspective.
When you’re not at work, what do you do to relax?
When I’m not working, I spend time with my family. I have a wonderful husband and the most amazing 6-year-old son. We enjoy getting outside as much as possible, whether it’s going to the beach, for a walk or drive to look at wildlife, or just out in the backyard to play catch or throw a Frisbee.
What is something about you that most people don’t know?
During my undergraduate, I participated in an independent research project examining the diversity of butterflies and moths in Dubois, Wyoming. The professor I worked with, Dr. Karölis Bagdonas, was researching the populations of moths that grizzly bears are known to feed on. He ran a field station outside of Dubois, where I spent part of the summer collecting butterflies and moths to help him with his research. This was a once in a lifetime experience for me. Having grown up in a very small town with a population of around 500, I had never traveled so far from home alone. I loved what I learned from that trip, not just about bears, butterflies, moths and that area of Wyoming, but I learned a great deal about myself. I look back on that trip as a major turning point in my life when I realized I was capable of doing much more than I ever dreamed.
How do you hope to grow in your career?
To grow in my career means to never stop learning and seeking out new information about biology and our environment. One of the best parts of being in education is the ability to continue learning. I hope to inspire my students to never stop learning or being passionate about what they love.
If you couldn’t do what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
If I was not able to be in education, I would go back to school for a degree in wine and viticulture. I would love to be able to work at a winery.