Biology Professor Dares Students to Excel and Dream

After 32 years, Steve Klemann trades in his lab for the north woods.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook) Amy Iarrobino ’11 remembers spending Friday afternoons with Steve Klemann, a biology professor and her advisor. She remembers his Hawaiian shirts, the stacks of scientific journals, and discussions about new scientific theories and the latest quiz.

“I was advised to daydream of scientific dilemmas while walking on campus or before bedtime in the event a scientific breakthrough would strike,” says Iarrobino, now a medical student at the University of Central Florida.

She credits her professor’s mentorship and research opportunities in helping her pursue a career as an oncologist—and still visits him every time she’s on campus.

Klemann started phasing into retirement this spring after 32 years at the college. He will teach during the spring semester for the next three years.

Paul Stephenson, an associate biology professor, has worked with Klemann for 16 years. His colleague has a “wealth of knowledge” and is thoughtful in his scientific research. Klemann still reads the latest journals to stay on top of research. “He’s a naturally curious guy,” Stephenson said.

Klemann specializes in developmental biology. He has studied a broad range of topics during his tenure, including amphibian development and embryonic communication between ovine and bovine mothers and embryos.

He also worked with the then-MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando, studying genomes and gene expression of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Klemann is interested in the research because it impacts everyone. Everyone knows someone who has fought cancer, he says. “As scientists, people think we are very detached when we are studying things,” Klemann says. “But these are very personal things. They affect our families.”

Klemann came to Rollins in 1982 because of his love of science and his belief in a liberal arts education. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Hanover College, a liberal arts school in Hanover, Indiana.

“It was the same kind of atmosphere,” he says. “You know your professors. You can’t hide. You are held accountable.”

Klemann expects his students to excel. Stephenson, a plant cell biologist, described him as one of the most demanding faculty members.

Iarrobino knows this firsthand. One semester, Klemann encouraged her to enroll in three demanding biology classes with labs, all while conducting independent research about how genes make breast cancer cells invasive and being  involved in leadership activities on campus.

“Dr. Klemann holds his students and himself to the highest standard,” she says. “He will push you to what you once thought was your full potential, and then raise the bar even higher.

Rollins students are challenged by cutting-edge and innovative classes and labs, the quality of which is not seen at larger universities, says Klemann.

As Klemann eases into retirement, he will trade in Florida’s heat for Wisconsin’s cold. From his desk at Rollins, he has been keeping an eye on Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, via a web cam. He and his wife, Lynn, have a lake home there, where Klemann plans to spend time in his large workshop—he loves to build: Kayaks, furniture, even his home.

He will also fish and go biking on trails. He is most looking forward to the crisp autumn mornings, the trees changing colors, and escaping the humidity. “It’s the north woods,” Klemann said. “You don’t need air conditioning.”