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Monday, August 03, 2015

Dr. Steven Fenster - New Faculty Teaching Award

Dr. Steven Fenster
Dr. Steven Fenster

“I see the students who get involved are the ones who seem to be most successful.”

With this observation about involvement in mind, Dr. Steven Fenster, Assistant Professor of Biology at Fort Lewis College, finds ways to make his classrooms more than just lecture halls. For him, research represents an important path to engaging his students. It’s one of the reasons he is this year’s New Faculty Teaching Award winner.

“The cool thing about Fort Lewis is that if you want to do research, you’re going to be able to do research,” he says. “Even if students did not consider conducting research as undergraduates, they have the opportunity to do research because we require it for their senior thesis.”

That chance to do research, which is so crucial to effective learning, is something he didn’t find all that often in his own undergraduate experience at a larger university. His pursuit of research opportunities led him away from school to a private biotech company for a time. Eventually he’d return to school to earn his Ph.D. in cell biology before taking a post-doctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital studying cancer.

As much as he enjoyed doing research, teaching was something he knew he wanted to do. His wife is also a scientist and taught at the college level, and Dr. Fenster began to do some teaching of his own. Then he discovered a job opening at Fort Lewis College and never looked back.

“What I like about teaching is I feel like I can get feedback,” he says. “I feel like I can make an impact directly on the students’ lives.”

When he became a full time professor, Dr. Fenster certainly didn’t want to give up doing research. Fortunately, teaching and research go together at Fort Lewis College. He’s noticed that incorporating research into his classrooms sometimes uncovers talents in his students that neither of them knew were there. More than once he’s seen average or even below average students blossom and shine once they get into the lab.

“You see students who have skills that don’t come out in the classroom, but they come out as researchers.”

His jobs as a professor and a researcher are part of a much larger role: mentor. He takes that role so seriously that he is a faculty-in-residence, living in a residence hall alongside students. Whether it’s hosting residents in his home or students in his office and lab, Dr. Fenster wants to be there anyway he can.

“My door is open to students. Letting them have opportunities to talk with professors and help with whatever they need, whether it be classwork, personal stuff, or career stuff. There are all kinds of things that I can give students at Fort Lewis College that I probably wouldn’t be able to do at a larger university.”

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