Frank G. Rodgers
Excellence in Teaching
Professor of Microbiology
College of Life Sciences and Agriculture
Photographed on July 29, 2004, with his daughters Vikki and Paula, Pine Hill Cemetery, Dover, N.H.
“I don’t book teach, I teach from my experience,” says Frank Rodgers.
After close to 20 years in the classroom at UNH, he is still gathering new experience.
A United States citizen with dual citizenship in England, Rodgers took a leave of absence from the University of New Hampshire in 1998 to accept a three-year position as chief of the National Laboratory for Enteric Pathogens, the Canadian equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control. At the same time, he was directing the Pan American Health Organization Program, a 22-country initiative to evaluate the ability of the South and Central American countries to detect disease. All because he saw it as a professional challenge.
Even Rodgers’ arrival at UNH was a challenge. The third of four boys born in Belfast, Ireland, his family left that religiously torn country for Australia and then England , where he received his Ph.D. and met his wife, Chris. In England, he worked for six years in the Central Public Health Laboratory focusing on herpes virus infections and the diagnosis of smallpox; and then for 10 years as a tenured faculty member at the University of Nottingham Medical School working on Legionnaire’s Disease. Rodgers first came to the United States in 1982 to present a paper in Boston, and a drive up the coast and across the Kancamagus Highway convinced the couple, with their two small children, to move across the ocean.
“I’ve always been a little bit footloose,” he says with a laugh. But the decision was the right one. They raised two daughters, Vikki and Paula, in Dover. Rodgers beams with pride when he talks about them, quick to point out that they both graduated from UNH and both married UNH graduates. One daughter is now pursuing a Ph.D. in plant ecology at Boston University ; the other a Ph.D. in marine biology at the University of Maryland/Smithsonian Institute.
When Rodgers talks about his work, the words can quickly become incomprehensible for the nonscientist. But like any good teacher he can just as easily make his subject understandable for anyone. He says pathogenic microbiology is a form of microbial detective work, a little bit like the television show CSI. It’s about identifying a disease and finding out how it is being spread and what you can do to stop it.
“If you can find out what vehicle is spreading a particular disease—for example, a food product that people are still buying—you can reduce its impact,” Rodgers explains. “It boils down to health and money. The financial impact can be vast, ranging from lost productivity to the cost of treatment.”
Rodgers and three other faculty members have taken on a new challenge. They will team teach a new general education course called Germs 101. Although still a work in progress, it grew out of a desire to fill a void in the Gen Ed options that are open and accessible to liberal arts majors. “Everyone needs to understand how a disease can spread,” he says. “Germs are all around us.”
There is little doubt the class will be both fun and informative. How couldn’t it be when paper bags of M&Ms are used to show how sexually transmitted diseases spread and the number of foods made of microbes is uncovered on a trip to the grocery store?
“To me this award is a vindication of what I’m doing,” Rodgers says. “It makes me feel fantastic, like the students are saying ‘yeah, we recognize what you’re doing and we like it.’ I think I must be doing something right.”
Rodgers certainly isn’t lacking in recognition. He is the only microbiologist at UNH to be elected to the American Academy of Microbiology, has served as editor of the American Society for Microbiology’s peer-reviewed journal, and has a long list of publications and grants, but it is his ten “E” concepts for teaching, that he calls his “guiding lights.” They are framed and hung in a place of prominence in his office: enthusiasm, experience, engagement, excitement, encouragement, entertainment, effort, excellence, empathy, and empowerment. The implementation of these is what makes teaching work for him.