Stan Sessions

Professor of Biology

What career path did you take to your position?
I took a career path toward becoming a biology professor at a college or university because I wanted to teach and do research on salamander development, cytogenetics, and evolution.

What brought you to Hartwick?/Why Hartwick?
While looking for suitable jobs, I decided I was interested in small colleges, and I happened to stumble upon an ad for a biology position at Hartwick in Oneonta, NY. I was intrigued by the name Oneonta because of Oneonta Gorge, one of my favorite salamander collecting localities in northern Oregon. When I came to interview, I found that Hartwick offered the opportunity to use "research as a teaching tool", allowing me to try out my idea that teaching and research are not only compatible, but strengthen each other.

Where are you from?/Where did you go to school?
I was born in Tillamook Oregon and was a "military brat," spending some time as a child in Georgia and Japan but mainly I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I went to high school at Grant High School in Portland and to undergraduate college at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.

Why is the "Liberal Arts in Practice" method an effective way for your students to learn?
Biology is very liberal arts, even though it is technically science. "In practice" means experiential education, which fits my philosophy of using research as a teaching tool, because actually doing biology is the best way to learn it, it my opinion and experience.

What about your work energizes/excites you?
Collaborating with students and colleagues on difficult concepts and topics in our research and in teaching classes, and doing research on problems for which there are no answers; making genuine discoveries for the first time.

Do you consider yourself a mentor to students? In what way?
Yes, I do not see college as the same thing as a school. Instead I see my students as potential colleagues (shares the same root as coll-ege). I have never been traqined as a teacher per se, but I know how to do biology, and so I can show students how to do it too, so I am very comfortable as a mentor for my students.

What are your classes like?/What is your best place to teach?
I really enjoy presenting talks (lectures), and almost see it as a "perk" of my job. I enjoy showing students how to learn from lectures and how to prepare them themselves (presenting and listening to talks is an essential component of professional life). We also do a variety of other things, including labs, discussions, group work, etc. and I try to engage students so that we interact and so that coming to class is worth their while.

How do you describe our students to colleagues, friends and family?
I describe our students as pretty typical college students that could be found at any college or university. That means there is a wide range of abilities and interests. The vast majority of our students are capable of just about anything they really want to do. How can it be otherwise, since some of our students have gotten into some of the most prestigious graduate programs and other professional programs in the country?

Have you won any awards/special honors/recognition/grants?

  • Outstanding Employee Award, Hartwick College, 2010
  • NSF S-STEM grant: "Biotechnology in Practice Scholarship Program at Hartwick College" ($552,000; 2010-2015); PI: S.K. Sessions
  • NSF Planning grant: "Expanding Collaborative Research and Education Opportunities to Protect Biological Diversity on Public Lands in Upstate New York" ($25,000; 2010-2011); PI: Brian Hagenbuch
  • Cargill Foundation Grant for Environmental Science, Environmental Science and Policy program, Hartwick College, 2009-2014
  • Winifred D. Wandersee Scholar-in-Residence Award, Hartwick College, 2008-2009
  • NSF RUI research grant: "Collaborative Research: Community ecology as a framework for understanding disease dynamics" ($86,527; Jan 2006 - Jan 2009); PI: S.K. Sessions
  • Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, Institute for Electronic Arts, Alfred University (2001-2002)
  • Margaret B. Bunn Award for Outstanding Teaching, Hartwick College, 2001
  • Winifred D. Wandersee Scholar-in-Residence Award, Hartwick College, 1998-1999
  • Hartwick College Teacher/Scholar Award, Teacher Excellence Program of the Independent College Fund of New York, 1996

What research are you doing, how do you engage your students in your work?
I have established a fairly heavy research program at Hartwick College, and we have worked on everything from deformed frogs (which attracted national attention among scientists and also from the news media) to evolutionary cytogenetics to organ regeneration, with numerous publications (some with Hartwick undergrads and alumni). Many students have worked with me over the years either in the context of their senior theses or directed studies or summer research. Some students continue to collaborate with me after they graduate.

What are your most recent publications, scholarly works, exhibitions, performances?
My publications spanning the past three years include scientific articles and book chapters with most current titles below. My CV provides a more complete list of my published work including published research with Hartwick students and alumni.

  • "Limb development of Japanese clawed salamander, Onychodactylus japonicus," in The Bulletin of Biogeography Society: Japan;
  • "Does the early frog catch the worm? Disentangling potential drivers of a parasite age-intensity relationship in tadpoles" in Oecologia;
  • "What Would Darwin Think?" in The Philosophy of Evolution(A.K. Purohit, ed.);
  • "Genome Size" (in review) in The 2nd Edition of Brenner's Online Encyclopedia of Genetice (S. Maloy and K. Hughes, eds.);
  • "The Case of the Deviant Toad: An Introduction to the proximate cause for limb deformities in amphibian", in Malamp, the Occurrence of Deformities in Amphibians.

What is your most valued Hartwick experience?
Just being a professor at Hartwick makes me look forward to each day (and I am not exaggerating). This is the perfect job for me, and I pinch myself everyday to remind myself that I am not dreaming. Interesting people, interesting work, interesting students, lots of interesting challenges and problems to work on, interesting colleagues, and I even like the cafeteria food!

What do you consider your most important contribution to Hartwick?
Mainly showing that having a vibrant and competitive research program is perfectly compatible with working at a four-year undergraduate college, and that using research as a teaching tool works. My most valuable achievement is probably obtaining a half-million dollar grant from the National Science F to provide scholarships for students interested in pursuing careers in biotechnology. I literally wrote this grant at 4 a.m. in the morning, and we were awarded it the first time we submitted it (usually it takes three or more times). This allowed us to attract 12 exceptional students to join the biology and biochemistry programs at Hartwick college, students who may otherwise not have attended here.

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