Far From Typical: Celebrating Diversity in Biology 100

Having fun in Biology 100!

This past academic year, I have had the privilege to teach at multiple institutions of higher education within Seattle. I started the Fall quarter teaching at Seattle Central Community College in Capital Hill, North Seattle Community College (NSCC) near Northgate and at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) campus. I am currently teaching Biology and Anatomy and Physiology at NSCC while also helping to develop a student mentoring program of Peer Facilitators at UWB. I absolutely enjoy working with my students, supporting them in their studies and encouraging them to pursue their passions. In addition to teaching various aspects of Biology, I have experienced different campus cultures and have gotten a chance to interact with students of diverse backgrounds.

I am not your typical Biology Instructor. I was born and raised in Hawaii before moving to Seattle in 2004 to attend the University of Washington to pursue a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology. My ancestors came to Hawaii from the Philippines and Korea to work on the pineapple and sugar cane plantations. My mom raised my sisters and me as a single parent but worked hard to provide a good life for us. We, my sisters and I, are first-generation college graduates and I was the first person in my family to pursue a graduate degree, let alone a PhD in the sciences.

I grew up in Chinatown in Honolulu and have vivid memories of walking through the marketplace after catching the bus home from school. Throughout my schooling, I have experienced both being part of the minority (when I attended a prestigious all-girls college preparatory school and being a Hawaii “transplant” during my graduate studies at the University of Washington) as well as being part of the majority (as a local girl attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa). In my current position at NSCC, I am commonly mistaken for a student as I usually carry my backpack filled with Biology and Anatomy textbooks. Although I am an instructor, I am still an avid learner, always open to learn and experience new things and perspectives.

One of my passions is to promote diversity in higher education and in the sciences. NSCC is an Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander-serving institution, where 65% of our students have self-identified as Caucasian and 35% as Asian Pacific Islander, African American, Hispanic or Native American / Alaska Native*. Although race / ethnicity and gender are easily observable, there are other categories of diversity which include religious beliefs, physical ability, socioeconomic status, age and sexual orientation. Under the leadership of President Mark Mitsui, NSCC strives to increase inclusion and diversity awareness while also advancing student success, building community and excelling in teaching and learning.

As an instructor at NSCC, I am involved in many aspects of supporting diversity through my participation in the Faculty Diversity Initiative (FDI) and by serving on the Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC). Initiated by President Mitsui, FDI seeks to increase the number of diverse faculty at NSCC in hopes to better reflect the population of our students. DAC is a standing committee dedicated to promoting diversity across campus. DAC sponsors many events on campus including the book reads and panels on diversity. I also strive to promote diversity and inclusion in the classroom and through interactions with my students.

In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage month, our class embarked on a project to highlight the diversity among us.

Biology 100 surveys various aspects of General Biology with an emphasis on human health and disease. Our class is designed for non-science majors and we have a wide range of personal and academic interests. These include writing screen plays, paddle boarding, playing sports, doing outdoor activities, horseback riding and spending time with family and friends. Academic interests include fine art, psychology, history, sociology, health sciences, marine biology, education, social work and business. We have students at all levels in their careers: high school students, recent high school graduates, students who are earning their Associate’s degree and transferring to a 4-year institution, students who have already gotten a degree but are taking classes to fulfill pre-requisites and even students who are seeking additional training to support a career change. We have different cultural perspectives, religious beliefs, childhood upbringing and service experience whether it be the Marines, Navy or AmeriCorps.

Just as our interests are diverse, we are diverse as individuals. Our class is 59% male and 41% female**. We come from many different ethnicities including Caucasian (55%), Asian (9%), Hispanic (4%) and other ethnicities not specified (9%)**. Some students identified as being of mixed ethnicities (23%) including Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, Chinese, Native Hawaiian and Native American**. We are comprised of both “traditional” students (41%) who have matriculated into college after graduating high school as well as “non-traditional” students (55%) who have careers, families to raise and / or have taken time off before coming back to school**. The majority of our students attend NSCC full-time (73%), whereas a fraction of students attend part-time (27%)**. Our academic experience is also varied where the highest degree attained among the majority of students is their high school diploma or GED (86%)**. A smaller subset of students are at various levels from completing high school (4%), or possessing an Associate’s degree (4%) or a Bachelor’s degree (4%)**.

We came together to learn Biology but have learned so much more about each other, our cultures, our interests and goals. I am so fortunate to have had an opportunity to meet and get a chance to know my students. I hope that they have learned from me as much as I have learned from each and every one of them.

We are diverse.

Unique.

Far from typical.

Here are some of our stories…

Being born and raised in a small town of only about 3,500 people, I was not exposed to a whole lot of diversity. Not to say there was no people of color around but even the people of color were raised as the rest of us were so family to family it was all the same. I was in for quite a shock when I went away to college for the first time. I received a scholarship to Iowa Wesleyan University to play football for the local tigers. When I arrived I was in awe at the percentage of my own teammates were African American., about 90 percent were of color and to me (born and raised in a small town in WA) this was something I’d never even imagined. Now it’s not to say I was scared, frightened, nervous, worried or had any other silly emotions towards them; I just had no clue whatsoever of how to interact with them. As I soon learned they were all just the same as me — although the way they talked and how they were raised varied a little bit from me. They grew up watching the same cartoons, same TV shows, playing the same games, and of course they all loved football. The differences we shared always gave us something to talk about and learn from one another. It was both are differences and our similarities that really brought us together and gave me to this day a couple of the greatest friends I’ve ever had.

-Donald Tate

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Biology is the least favorite subject of mine and it was not my thing back in high school. I can only recall dark room with weird smell of giant frogs. And after roughly twenty years later, I am taking Biology 100 for credit to graduate here at NSCC. I figured it would be another boring class that I was sure that I wouldn’t like it much. I became a crime related TV show junkie past twenty years. I watched every episode of ‘Lie to me’, ‘Numbers’, ‘CSI: Las Vegas, NY’, ‘Mentalist’, ‘White collar’, ‘Breakout kings’ and many more. Watching them became one of my favorite things. The least interesting subject became one of my interesting subjects because of this. Few weeks passed by quickly since school started and I found myself little time to re-watch CSI: Las Vegas episodes. And I was surprised to find out that investigator from CSI were using same tools that we used in our lab for DNA test and characters from Break out kings were talking about Punnett square that we learned recently. It was so cool. Biology was not boring after all. I just didn’t know well enough back then that how biology can be so cool and how it has very close relationship with the real life. Now I just can’t wait to go to biology class and learn new things and watch new episodes on TV and say, “I know that”.

-Heejin Dan

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I am not a science major. Not only am I not majoring in science, it is also quite easily one of my two least favorite subjects – the other being math. What I am is an art and literature enthusiast; someone who is better suited for anything that can be explored and understood with infinite possibilities, rather than the typically more finite constraints of math and science. So why take this biology class? In short, I had to.

Yet what I’ve learned throughout this quarter is that science isn’t nearly as finite and exacting as I’d been imagining it to be since my last science class more than a decade ago. Instead, it’s a world of uncharted territory, hypotheses and theories that are no more finite than the methodologies of painting, and knowledge that can be applied to everyday life experiences. It isn’t simply a realm of starched white lab coats and specific formulaic practices; science an ever-changing, creative and sometimes happenstance experience.

The people I’ve met have further altered my reality of what I expected to be a drab and mundane scientific environment. Our instructor can discuss DNA with just as much enthusiasm as she puts into bopping around the (before class) to Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony and (during class) to science-related rhymes about Mendel and biodiversity. So much for the starched white lab coat image. Our labs have had us smashing strawberries, looking at our own spit under the microscope, and swabbing whatever surface we see fit for playing with bacteria. So much for specific formulaic practices. And my classmates come from a variety of backgrounds, with endlessly unique goals and interests, all kinds of life experience, and offer lots of fantastic ideas and contributions to the greater good of our little biology community.

All in all, it’s been an alright couple of months. Will I alter my course and steer toward a career in the sciences? I hypothesize no. Instead, I’ll take the things we’ve learned this quarter and apply them wherever and whenever. I’ll appreciate being able to better understand what all that nutrition label gibberish means (trans what?!), why my little boy looks the way he does (umm…cute!), and why ligers and zebroids aren’t just fantastical creatures (who knew?!). And who knows, maybe someday I can even experiment with a bit of this new-found knowledge by incorporating it some piece of art or literature.

-Hannah Peterson

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A little bit about me… I’ve been living in Seattle my whole life and I couldn’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else. This is my second year at North Seattle Community College and I’ll be finishing my AAB degree this upcoming fall to transfer to a 4-year university. I’m a full-time student and I work part-time to support myself at a pizza shop called Veraci. Some activities that I enjoy are nature walks, listening to music, and watching movies. I enjoy having conversations with people and getting to know them a little bit better. Overall I’ve enjoyed my tenure at NSCC and I’ve met a lot of new interesting people with various backgrounds, but I’m excited about transferring and working towards my bachelor’s degree.

-Drew Nixon

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My experience growing up was different than most, I was homeschooled until High School. Once I got to High School it was a culture shock. There were so many different people doing so many different things, whether it was band or choir or football. But the most interesting thing about it now looking back was how I was treated for being the “homeschooled kid”. I thought that I was just like everyone else. I did my homework, went to class, and was made fun of and teased for being home schooled. I didn’t realize till now that I was the minority. The thought that a white female could be a minority had never crossed my mind, but I was. With all the different people that I encountered, I forgot that I was and still am, unique. People saw me as different and I didn’t know what to think about that for a long time. However, I now know that experience helped make me who I am today and I like who I am. I’m unique.

-Bio 100 Diversity Blogger

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I served 5 years in the United States Marine Corps. Although people may not realize it, both diversity and science are very important to Corps. Because our mission is based on amphibious warfare, we must travel to many islands and many coasts. The diversity among our ranks helps our cultural understanding of foreign lands and the science behind our technology helps get us there. As an infantryman, I had little experience with the technologies of the Corps, but I had a lot of experiences where diversity was helpful.
In Iraq, my platoon’s cultural make up consisted of whites, blacks (both American and African), Hispanics, Samoans, and we had one person from the Philippines. When traveling, this came in handy. On the large bases in Iraq, there were a lot of multinational forces. We met Tongan Marines, and the Samoans in our platoon were able to translate for us, and we met Ugandans, who our Africans translated for us. In our tiny outpost however, our generator mechanics were contractors from the Philippines. Our generators would break down all the time because of the harsh conditions in the desert, however, our mechanics spoke very little English. We were lucky that we had Sergeant Deleon, our Filipino. He was able to communicate with the mechanics and keep the generators running when they would fail on us. Lastly, we were told from our Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Martinez, that during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he came across a small isolated village that had been occupied by the Spanish many years ago. The entire village spoke fluent Spanish. He told us that it was nice being able to speak to the people directly and not through an interpreter. I am very thankful to have served with such a diverse group of people. Everyone’s differences contribute greatly to the effectiveness of the group.
-Aaron Scheuerman

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“Nucleotide”
By Shane Leopard

I’m an art major. I get pretty good grades too. The worst grade I’ve had at NSCC was in macroeconomics. Macroeconomics is outside my area of focus. Yet, I’ve taken other classes outside of my area of focus and done pretty well. I believe the difference is my own interest and motivation. The other classes I took outside my area of focus (besides macroeconomics) were really engaging and interesting and I generally enjoyed them-even maths. I enjoyed them so much that I considered taking another class in their respective field (yes, even math) and maybe even changing course-but I stuck to my art degree. I never felt this way about macroeconomics. My macroeconomics teacher was a fossil. Nice guy, but I could’ve walked into that class in 1977 and had the exact same experience VERBATIM. I believe my grades reflect my interest in any particular class-and I was pretty uninterested in macroeconomics. I felt this was largely due to the professor and not the subject. This brings me to Amber Caracol (who is from Hawaii). When I registered for Biology after getting beaten up by macro, I was concerned that I was going to take another pounding to close out my degree (this is my last quarter at North). So I have to admit, my first impression of her based on her appearance was that it was going to be a good quarter. I honestly did this by “racially profiling” Amber with everything I personally had experienced with Asian Pacific Islanders. When I was a kid we had neighbors who were from Samoa. These people were so awesome. They used to babysit us all the time and we always had a ton of fun with them. I had many friends of other Asian Pacific heritages over the years and have traveled to Hawaii and hung out there as well. In my experience, I’ve found that there’s something easy going yet wise and natural about people of the Asian Pacific Isles. This describes Amber. WAY laid back, likes to jam beats, knows her stuff. Amber motivates me to learn about biology because she is so enthusiastic about it. She should start a nerd cult or something. I’m happy to be outside my area of study again because when it’s good, I start to learn and perceive the world in a new and better way. Biology had the potential to be a nightmare, but thanks to Amber, I have learned a TON about who I am on a “phenotypical” level (among other things). This is even more interesting when I think about my parents and my children. I have become hyper aware of how large I really am while also being aware of how small I really am. It really helps me define my place in the universe in a way. Isn’t that what a college professor is supposed to ultimately give me? As an art student, I am also taking Painting 203 this quarter. Since I’ve been thinking about my physical world, I have been cognizant of it as I paint abstractly. I did a painting called “Nucleotide” as we were learning about DNA quite by accident. I like the painting because it kinda looks like two large planets crashing into each other, but the title suggests something so much smaller. It is my hope that the painting will provoke thought about where one stands in the grand scheme of things…much like Amber’s biology class.

-Shane Leopard

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*This data was presented in the Seattle Community College Districtwide Workforce Diversity Report.

**These data were acquired from 22 students through an informal in-class poll. Not all students who are registered for Biology 100 participated in the poll.

Thanks for reading,

DC

P.S. These aren’t the only amazing blogs shared by our awesome class… Please use the links on the left to check out the more posts by Bio 100 Bloggers!! =)

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5 thoughts on “Far From Typical: Celebrating Diversity in Biology 100

  1. […] College, decided to host her students as guest bloggers on her personal site. She talks about Celebrating Diversity in her course, Biology 100 and how her class honored Asian-Pacific Heritage Month through blogging. The posts are about a […]

  2. I love how you are embracing your and your students personal stories while teaching science. I love it! Science is a part of our lives, no sense compartmentalizing it. Plus, I love how you are using this blog to enhance the learning experience. Glad I have discovered this blog and very glad it is a part of the Diversity in Science Carnival!

    • Amber Caracol says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! It really is so much fun sharing our stories and science in the classroom. Also, my summer quarter post about teaching in Seattle and in Malaysia is up! Thanks for reading!

      -DC

  3. […] From Typical: Celebrating Diversity in Biology 100 (https://dcsblogspot.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/far-from-typical-celebrating-diversity-in-biology-100-2/) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Bookmark the permalink. Leave […]

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