Donna Moore Powers was hired to revamp the non-major life science courses. Having once been a non-major, but completing a doctorate in botany with an emphasis on ecology, teaching biology in the context of ecology seemed the solution. Drawing the connections between real-life and natural science is both a challenge and yet natural for her.
Powers holds a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Arkansas in 1999. Her first job, at Hamilton College (1999–2000), brought her to New York, and then finally to CCC in 2000.
Even though teaching is her passion, Powers' other interests include slime molds. Slime molds are a small group of intriguing organisms that play an important role in the soil ecosystem. She has been investigating the distribution of slime molds in habitats around the world for over 12 years, including research in the Arkansas, New York, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Antarctica, and Australia. For her, unraveling the story behind the biogeography of slime molds is fascinating. The trends in the distribution of slime molds in temperate habitats of a large continent are a bit blurry when talking tropical islands. Nearly every aspect of slime mold ecology is new to science. There are only 20 or so slime mold ecologists around the world.
Using basic ecological principles, Powers enjoys drawing the connections between real-life and natural science. Students dig below the surface and reflect on the environment around them to better understand how they work, and where they belong in the big scheme of ecological interactions. It is these connections that promote active learning in, hopefully, a life full of learning.
In addition to teaching introductory biology, Powers also teaches a non-majors Introduction to Sustainability and Environmental Science and a majors Environmental Science class. Students in these classes learn basic ecological concepts, environmental issues, how everyday activities are affecting the balance of nature, and how sustainable solutions can help. Through a series of individual and campus based activities, she not only lures students into taking the first step to being a better green citizen, but also demonstrates how easy it is to change small behaviors. Students in the majors level course have ample opportunity to dive deeper into environmental issues, apply critical thinking to the design and analysis of experiments, and perform campus sustainability projects. She hopes this knowledge will follow them for many years, not just a single semester.
I believe that teaching students to be lifelong learners requires more than just teaching content. I assert that content in context can help students make lasting connections between their academic coursework and their everyday lives.