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May 10, 2015

Fostering a Sense of Wonder

george-russelBy George K. Russell, Ph.D., professor and director of graduate studies, biology

Each of us can probably count on the fingers of one hand those exemplary teachers whose influence has helped to shape our lives and instill in us some of the basic values we hold. I look back on a 10th grade teacher of geometry, a lecturer in freshman biology and a senior thesis adviser in college with genuine affection and profound thanks. These exceptional teachers helped me understand that a fundamental part of any academic course must be to see what is truly real through direct personal experience.

Perhaps what I have tried to do in my years at Adelphi is to keep firmly in mind that the study of human disease processes must take some account of individuals with the disease, the study of the laws of heredity must include a hands-on experience of the plants and animals that are under consideration and that any study of biology must remember that it is the study of life—that is, living creatures, natural environments and the wealth of living phenomena that we, as students of biology, try to understand.

Just as important as a study of life’s mechanics is the fostering of what Rachel Carson has called a “sense of wonder.” I have come to understand that an experience of life’s enchantments will last far beyond any one academic course and can lead to lifelong interest and involvement. I am genuinely grateful to those many students who found their way into my courses and have given me an opportunity to work through these ideas with them. I hope that my approach has lived on with them and will continue to do so in the future.

This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of The Catalyst, the College of Arts and Sciences newsletter.

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