Changing Attitudes About Science

Eileen Gregory removes the fear of science.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook) Professor of Biology Eileen Gregory goal is to make science understandable and fun—especially for those who dread the words molecular and cellular.

Part of her strategy focuses on taking the fear out of science. Her microbiology courses have replaced traditional lectures with conversations, discussions, and collaborations with other departments, such as education.

Professor Eileen Gregory works with young students as part of her mission to instill a love for science at early ages. (Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections) Professor Eileen Gregory works with young students as part of her mission to instill a love for science at early ages. (Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections) This spring, she gave up her tenured position, but she’ll continue teaching during the fall semester for the next three years before she plans to retire. Gregory came to Rollins College in 1979, and she’ll tell you she never expected to be at Rollins this long—35 years in total.

“I came to Rollins with the idea that I would stay here for three years and move on,” Gregory says. “But I love my colleagues; I love my students; and for a school this size, it’s got an amazing amount of scientific equipment. You can do research here. Most people fall in love with Rollins.”

Leadership in the Classroom

Gregory, who is from Winter Park, specializes in microbiology, bacteria, viruses, and immunology. But she equally enjoys teaching introductory biology courses to non-biology majors.

Biology matters outside the laboratory, she says. She believes that non-biology majors should be taught with the same vigor as those working toward a biology degree. One day, they could be in charge of funding scientific research or bringing awareness to an issue. On a personal level, everyone will face medical issues at some point, and biology can help explain the problems.

“I really enjoy teaching the non-biology students who are taking it for a requirement,” Gregory says. “You can get those students with science phobias to realize that science is fun, interesting, and not that hard.

Her approach in the classroom has inspired others in her department. Associate Biology Professor Fiona Harper has worked with Gregory for nine years. Gregory helped her as a new professor, showing Harper how to think of teaching as more than simply lectures.

“She saved me my first year,” Harper, a marine biologist, says. “She’s always on the front lines when there are new tools and techniques.”

The College has recognized Gregory’s success in the classroom. In 2004, she became the first recipient of the Cornell Distinguished Teaching Award. President Rita Bornstein created faculty awards in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and service. Awards were presented in each area.  Gregory then served three years on the award committee.

“She has motivated us to continue to improve our own pedagogy,” Harper says. “She will be sadly missed.”

Working with Young Scientists

Gregory realizes that college is too late to instill a love for science. You have to reach students earlier.

Gregory’s belief resulted in a collaboration with the Rollins education department to help improve science education in elementary and high schools. In 1988, she and Linda DeTure, then professor of education at Rollins, received grants from the Florida Department of Education to instruct elementary and pre-service teachers in teaching science.

Professor Eileen Gregory works with a student during a biology class. The class is part of the Pathways to College program, which encourages youth to think about post-secondary education. (Photo by Laura J. Cole) Professor Eileen Gregory works with a student during a biology class. The class is part of the Pathways to College program, which encourages youth to think about post-secondary education. (Photo by Laura J. Cole) Gregory later started a program at Fern Creek Elementary School in Orlando that involved Rollins students working with schoolchildren on science projects. The program resulted in higher scores on the science portion of Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test for the fifth grade.

Her program led to a collaboration with the Pathways to College program in 2007. It introduces the concept of college to elementary students by bringing them onto campus, where they participate in classes and interact with faculty and students.

Gregory hopes it will inspire students.

“You need to change (attitudes) at the elementary level,” Gregory says. “That’s where the students develop their love for science.”

Getting Smaller and Smaller

Science is becoming smaller, and biology is no exception. When Gregory started her career, the subject was limited to organisms that students could see. It has now advanced to the chemistry occurring in the cell.

“It’s not at all the same subject,” Gregory says. “You have to get students to understand what they can’t see it. Biology is no longer a vocabulary quiz.

That isn’t the only change. The sciences were dominated by men when Gregory joined the department in 1979. She was one of two women in the department’s faculty of five.

That has changed in the last 10 years, she says. Currently, the biology department has eight permanent positions, with half held by women

Jill Jones, an English professor, has worked with Gregory for 18 years, both on committees and with Gregory serving as her outside evaluator for tenure. “She’s been a strong presence at Rollins,” Jones says. “She was one of the strong female voices.” 

Acting as a Global Citizen

Outside the classroom, Gregory believes in global citizenship, allowing people to learn and appreciate other cultures. While at Rollins she was awarded three Fulbright grants, allowing her to teach molecular biology at medical schools in Jordan in 1985 and Syria in 1993 and to participate in a women’s studies seminar in India in 1988.

Gregory especially enjoyed her time in Jordan and Syria, appreciating how welcoming the people were. She became interested in the area’s history and learning about Islam. “I went there knowing nothing about that part of the world,” she says. “I came back with very positive experiences.”

Gregory will be on the move when she retires. She and Robert Ott, her husband, plan to travel for extended periods when she’s not teaching, including spending six months in the Pacific Northwest cities of Tacoma and Portland.

They also are planning to spend an extended period of time in Iowa near their family. They are looking forward to bicycling on trails and eating “plenty of good healthy farm food,” she says. “You don’t really get to experiences places if you do the typical tourist [method of] popping in and popping out.

As much as she enjoys traveling, she looks forward to returning to Rollins to teach during the fall semesters. “I come to work every day excited,” she says. “It’s a great amount of fun.”