Sunday, January 22, 2017

Faculty Fast Five: Karla Heidelberg

Faculty Fast Five: Karla Heidelberg

We interviewed Karla Heidelberg, who was just recognized with this year's Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching. Learn a little more about Karla below with some fun questions. 

What is your favorite book? 

When asked to report on your favorite book, I feel that the expectation is that people will answer with some critically acclaimed book that alludes to a deep topic of societal relevance. While I have enjoyed many of these types of books, my favorite book is a little less weighty. Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson combines humor, historical research, and a true sense of adventure – all things that I value. I might add that after reading one of his other books, A Short History or Nearly Everything, I couldn’t help but think that my BISC120 Intro to Biology lectures could have been much better if I incorporated his style of teaching and relating scientific information to students that are eager to get this prerequisite completed!

Was there a first science project/experiment that you remember and loved? 

As an undergraduate, I had an opportunity to work with one of my Professors on an EPA-funded study evaluating the toxicity effects of ALCOA aluminum plant discharge into the environment. We undertook field sampling and laboratory studies to test plant effluent toxicity on Daphnia (a freshwater zooplankton species) survival and reproduction. This was my first authentic research experience and the first time that I really considered human impacts on environmental systems. It changed how I thought about the field of science.

What's your favorite scientific discovery in history? 

The 1953 discovery of the structure of DNA from work based on the efforts of James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin became one of the greatest scientific discoveries in modern history. The discovery that DNA occurred in a double-stranded/double helix molecule allowed for understanding of how the molecule copied itself and transferred genetic material across generations. This breakthrough has led to great discoveries in evolution, diversity, disease and behavior in biology. As a biological oceanographer, I am very interested in how organisms’ genetic makeup and gene expression affects their fitness in a given environment and how that, in turn, affects ocean function.

What excites you about science today? Specifically working in environmental studies. 

The scientific process is based on the critical analysis of information at hand. I like that we are taught, and in turn teach to others, that science is driven by the preponderance of evidence. What we know is a moving trajectory based on new discoveries and understanding. This way of thinking is exciting and provides structure for me -- countering the uncertainties of accepting what others tell us to accept.

I think that my favorite part of being the Director of the Dornsife Environmental Studies Program is interacting with truly passionate and diverse students in this program. A dynamic environmental studies class at USC will have students from multiple majors that argue points from very different perspectives. These perspectives remind me of the importance of promoting understanding of complex factors that drive our behavior toward science and toward environmental protection. Most of our students are eager to participate in off campus or non-traditional learning, and the lessons they bring back from the experiential learning motivates newer students and keeps our students motivated to try new things and take “learning risks” that prepare them for dynamic careers after graduation.  

If you had five words to describe a day in your life as a director at USC, what would it be? 

Tombstone won’t say I’m lazy.

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