About Sarah

Desert horned lizardI was born the oldest of four children. As a child, I moved frequently due to my Dad’s Air Force career. My most memorable childhood home was in the tiny town of California City in the Mojave Desert. There was a vacant lot next door, and my sister and I spent many hours picking wildflowers, attempting to catch jackrabbits, and gathering ants to feed to our pet desert horned lizards, which I knew then as horny toads. Later, in college, I learned in class that horny toad populations were declining due to people keeping them as pets but failing to feed them live ants. I was indignant – my sister and I had gone out to the nearest anthill every morning with empty yogurt containers and spoons to collect ants and keep our horny toads healthy!

After many moves and my father’s serious fight with lymphoma, I became very shy and withdrawn. A year of public high school in Beaverton, Oregon left me begging my parents to let me try homeschooling. They let me do it for a year, but I wasn’t self-motivated enough to stay on top of all my subjects and my Dad started taking me to tour other schools in the area. Ultimately, I ended up at a Tualatin Hills Nature Park Officesmall magnet school, the School of Science and Technology in my junior year. I thrived in the more intimate atmosphere, where students could build relationships with other nerdy kids and the 5 teachers who taught everything. My biology teacher, Mrs. Deal, was especially great. We worked on independent projects and monitored plots of land in the nature park across the street, and we modifiedĀ E. coli with a jellyfish gene to make them glow in the dark. I didn’t understand all the principles behind these projects, but it sure was fun. I also took math classes at Portland Community College to earn some credits to make up for the year I missed. I graduated with my age group in a class of 30 students – my future husband was one year behind me.

In my first year of college at Utah State University, I decided to major in Wildlife Science. This meant I had to take general biology in a giant auditorium where I frequently fell asleep during the 500-person, 8 am class where each day the teacher stood next to a projector screen and turned the lights off. My dad started calling to wake me up for class with inspirational quotes because he was worried I would lose my scholarship. Luckily, I managed to pass and then became one of the top students when I got to the smaller biology classes in my major. I grew to love ecology, the potential to model biological Macrobrachium carciunus, the shrimp I studied in Puerto Ricoprocesses using math and computers, and appreciate the difficulty of reading scientific papers. I even won $400 in Reno for a plant identification contest at a conference! I also got the amazing opportunity to do a research project in Puerto Rico during the summer of 2006. I hiked up and down streams and waterfalls every day, setting and checking traps to measure the migration patterns of large freshwater shrimp.

At the end of my undergraduate degree, most of my classmates were going on to be wildlife managers for government agencies, but I was still shy and didn’t want anything to do with managing people, even though I handled myself well as a teaching assistant in some sticky situations. I loved classes, and decided to go to graduate school at Washington State University. They had a great biology program, and it wasn’t far from Spokane, where my new boyfriend (and old high school crush) was attending Gonzaga. I continued studying stream ecology, focusing on the invasive New Zealand Mud Snail and its interactions with native snails and coevolution with a trematode parasite.

By the end of my master’s degree, I knew that I loved research, but I loved teaching more. Most of my research professors spent their time in the office dealing with grant paperwork while their graduate students did the hands on research. I didn’t want to be a glorified grant writer, so I started looking for teaching jobs. Dean Peggy Moe at RTC took a chance on me during the summer of 2010 when she needed an instructor, and I stepped up to the challenge. As the years progressed, I asked to try teaching new classes and my teaching improved. I realized that even at a teaching school there’s a lot of committee work, and even some grant writing, but also that I enjoyed it more than I’d imagined. I love the variety of tasks that are part of my job, and the opportunity to help shape an organization that is much bigger than my classes. Most of all, I love to see my students getting excited about biology and asking great questions. I’m so glad that I get to teach classes of 24 students and not auditoriums of 500! I hope to give them unique experiences and exposure to research projects to inspire those students who aren’t taking the traditional path.