was fat and
succulent and the student was
another day in
the field for
assistant biology professor Michele “Mickey”
’03. Only today,
the field was a
river. And the
leech was an
“We were using nets to sample little organisms from the bed of the Huzzah River,”
recalled Michele, an advocate of hands-on learning. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s
great. If I can get one student so excited over a leech…’”
Just think what she could do with a field of invasive plant life.
“I’m definitely a field person,” said Michele, who received her biology degree from
McKendree before attaining a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution and systematics from Saint
Louis University. “Specifically, I’ve been working in prairies. The prairie is my
Endangered and invasive plant species are her extended family. A working scientist
as well as a professor, she often invites students to take part in her outdoor research.
She gives them the opportunities she craved at their age.
“When I attended school here, all of my fellow biology students were either pre-med,
pre-veterinary school or they wanted to go work in a lab. I was different.”
Michele was the girl who searched for wildflowers on her grandparents’ farm, carrying
Peterson’s “Guide to Wildflowers” everywhere she went.
“Fortunately for me, there was a faculty member at McKendree—Ted Anderson, he’s retired
now—who took the time to understand what I wanted to do and didn’t try to ‘shush’
me out of it. He set up an internship for me with a renowned ecologist.”
That ecologist - Robert E. Ricklefs, Curators’ Professor of Biology at University
of Missouri at St. Louis - authored a textbook that Michele now uses to teach one
of her classes.
“Ted Anderson helped me get the opportunities I needed,” she said, noting she served
as a teaching assistant for him at the University of Michigan Biological Station.
“He cared about me as a person.”
Today, Michele, who is married with a toddler-aged son, pays it forward.
“I offer classes that weren’t around when I was a student. Conservation biology is
a new class I brought to the program. I also helped start the environmental studies
program. I’m trying to help students realize their full potential.”
If their potential lies in the field, all the better.
“I get to know my students,” said the published field ecologist, who serves as faculty
advisor to Sigma Zeta, the science and mathematics honor society. “I notice when someone
would like a research opportunity. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I have this work out in the prairie.
Would you like to be involved?’ Students often fight tooth and nail for research opportunities.”
In one outdoor project, she and a group of honor students traveled to Carlyle Lake,
where they collected refuse and brought it back to the school.
“We displayed what we found right in the middle of campus,” she said. “We had chicken
wire strung from a T-post and the students took the time to weave (the trash) into
an artistic display.”
Fishing line. Styrofoam cups. Fast food restaurant bags. The students highlighted
their finds with information on how long each item would take to degrade. The end
result was both eye catching and eye opening.
“When you give students ownership over a project, they go way beyond what you could
ever imagine,” Michele said proudly. “I really enjoy interacting with the students.
I love coming to work. I enjoy being the person who brings research to the students
that normally they wouldn’t get at another small school.
“Getting to know the students and what they need as individuals,” she said, “that’s
what makes McKendree… well, McKendree.”