Chery Whipple has taught at many levels, including elementary, middle school, high school, and college. Currently she teaches molecular genetics, biology, microbiology, laboratory techniques, and anatomy and physiology at Colby Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire. As a board member in the New Hampshire Academy of Science (NHAS), she helped design, construct, and equip a state of the art molecular biology lab. During the summers, as part of the NHAS STEM Summer Research program, she uses this lab space to mentor and guide motivated middle school and high school students through novel research projects. She has a Ph.D. in genetics, M.S. in education, and B.S. in biology.
Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?
I have always loved science — it was the class where you actually got to do hands-on activities, ask any question, and then try to answer it! I initially thought I was going to be a veterinarian or perhaps a doctor, until I was lucky enough to have an outstanding AP Biology teacher and several very talented, memorable college biology professors. I was hooked. I fell in love with learning, asking “why,” making new discoveries, and then explaining what I found to others in the hopes they’d find it as fascinating as I did!
What are you most proud of in your work?
Helping students reach that “aha!” moment when the pieces fall together and they realize they can do it! I am especially proud of the students who really work hard and never give up. I’d like to think I helped them stick with it in some small way.
What fuels your passion for science and teaching and helps get students engaged in the classroom?
The relationship and interconnectivity between all subjects. During my undergraduate and graduate studies and research, there was a lot of pressure to narrow your scientific interest to one highly specific niche. This was a challenge for me — I found everything interesting! I have studied gene expression and the impact of potential environmental toxins in the roundworm C. elegans and the water flea daphnia; as well as cancer biology in cancer cell lines and mouse models of cancer. I love to continuously reinvent my research niche. To step back and appreciate how interconnected science really is. I believe my enthusiasm for science is contagious in the classroom and that by integrating recent research, novel applications, personal experiences, and hands-on laboratory experiences students discover how relevant and applicable the material is to their lives and develop their own enthusiasm for learning science.
What is your take on teaching, and what do you hope your students take from your classes?
My approach is very similar regardless of the age group. I want to build confidence, enthusiasm for discovery, and a critical mind able to solve problems and integrate information from across multiple disciplines. My approach is always — let’s ask a question and then figure out how to answer it.
First, I hope students leave my classes excited about science and feeling capable of exploring their own interests and ideas. Second, I hope to help develop a critical mind able to integrate novel information from across multiple disciplines. Third, I hope students learn to appreciate that you never know where opportunities will lead, but you should always be open to them. Always try new things and don’t be afraid of failure. It’s only a failure if you quit. Otherwise it’s an excellent learning opportunity!
Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
As with my career in science, I have many different hobbies. I’m always outside — gardening, hiking, biking, running, camping, kayaking, skiing, and traveling. Last summer I completed my longest run yet — a 35 mile trail run up and over several mountains in New Hampshire.