PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Sherell Kuss Byrd

F21 Class of 1994 Statements Revisited

Sherell Byrd is Professor of Biology and Department Chair at Fort Lewis College.

Question: What are the current challenges you are facing in your professional life?

Answer: The major challenges for me are balancing my professional life with my personal life, and trying to keep professionally interested and connected through the next phase of my career. Two years ago I was awarded and NSF-AREA grant and also became the department chairperson. While I enjoy all of the things I am doing (egads, did I say I like being department chair?), I have had to become much more diligent about taking time for myself and my family. In some ways it has been very instructive because I've had to learn how to "let go" and delegate more, and to concentrate on those things that have impact rather than dissipating energy on lots of little insignificant things.

The other challenge is viewing myself as a "senior" member of the department, and looking forward at the 12 years until retirement. Twelve years seems like a long time to continue to teach the things that I am teaching, and press on doing research in a less than optimal grant funding atmosphere. My challenge is going to be continuing to find ways that I can contribute, to be stimulated by my work and my environment, and not become a tired old departmental "ghost".

Question: What do you view as your most promising options and opportunities for the future?

Answer: I like being involved with the administration of the department. While it is challenging, it also provides the opportunity for me to develop a more "rounded" view of the discipline, and to try to bring faculty from the subdisciplines of Biology to some consensus about how to deliver the curriculum or handle research. This position is not permanent however, and generally rotates every 3 years (often volunteers do it for two consecutive terms). As I look toward what will come next, it is hard to see what I will be doing. I am interested in developing more concrete programs for pre-health students at our institution, and have imagined some sort of position working between the local medical community and the college, but as of now, that remains only in my head. I want to stay current, but don't know whether the pathway will be via research or through other types of professional development more tied to teaching. .

Question: What will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?

Answer: Hopefully, STEM will be more integrated (ie. biophysics, geochemistry) at the undergraduate level. The academy and institutions will need to rethink the "department" model for teaching and distributing funds. Math and sciences will still be considered overly rigorous for most US students and study in these areas will continue to decline until, as a nation we are economically disadvantaged because of our lack of investment in the sciences. When jobs are created that pay well, and research and development become a priority, students will come and excel in STEM areas.