Charles Walker

Jean Brierley Award for Excellence in Teaching

Professor of Zoology

College of Life Sciences and Agriculture

 

Right: Chuck Walker during a pictorial lecture on the remarkable mitochondrion organelle at McConnell Hall during Principles of Biology.

 

 

Cell heaven
Charles Walker

David Daggett '92 is a post–doctoral fellow in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. As he prepares to seek a faculty position, he admits to having "sometimes struggled" with the decision to commit to a career that demands so much of young faculty. No sooner do such doubts creep into his mind than his thoughts turn to Charles "Chuck" Walker—his mentor who inspired him as an undergraduate at UNH to feel passionately about science and devote his life to it.

Daggett remembers the day, in 1988, when he arrived on campus, interested in the natural world but "lacking a particular passion for study, or a clear vision of what a fulfilling career might look like." The 8 a.m. biology class, required of biology majors, was taught by Walker, professor of zoology in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture. Within a few short lectures, Daggett sensed a shift in his feelings. Walker had Daggett "hanging on every word" and having "no trouble" getting to those 8 a.m. lectures.

Students say Walker is more than a lecturer when he steps into the classroom. He is a storyteller and an artist. At the start of each class, he opens up his bag of chalk and turns to the blank chalkboard, ready to paint the picture that is biology. He chooses colors to indicate specific cellular structures or families of proteins. Then he begins to tell stories, for example, of how single cells grow into specific parts of a fly's wing and how "top" and "bottom" and "front" and "back" are genetically programmed in the fly. Walker smiles the whole time he talks, and his eyes are bright with passion for the subject.

"I don't know how you can talk about biology and not make it interesting," says Walker. Apparently, neither do his students. Each semester they haul themselves out of bed for introductory biology; put themselves through "cell hell," the nickname for the upper–level cell and molecular biology course Walker co–teaches with colleague Wayne Fagerberg; and line up to work in his labs that overflow with students: high school, undergraduate, graduate, and post–doctoral all finding a welcome place in Walker's world.

Brenton Paolella '06 uses his notes from "cell hell" to prepare for his exams in the doctoral program in molecular biology at Dartmouth College. He remembers "a culture of learning that was everywhere" Walker presided. "Chuck would always ask, 'What have you discovered today?'"

Lesley Kennedy '83 has spent 24 years as a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston. She often thinks back on how Walker influenced her career. "The most important thing was that he gave me the opportunity to do original research as an undergraduate," recalls Kennedy. "I was totally immersed in what is now a buzz word in school science circles—inquiry!"

Today, Kennedy designs teacher programs that are used in science teaching worldwide to create the same kind of "empowering learning experiences" she had studying invertebrate zoology with Walker.

Unsurpassed in the art of classroom teaching, Walker also exposes his students to cutting–edge science by involving them in his nationally–funded research. One such study, supported by the National Cancer Institute, has probed the use of the clam as a model for human cancers like colon carcinoma and glioblastoma involving the tumor suppressor gene p53. He also involves students in his investigations that manipulate sea urchin gametogenesis and its role in urchin aquaculture.

Walker's undergraduates routinely turn out in droves for the UNH Undergraduate Research Conference. These graduates who developed careers at places such as the Smithsonian Institution, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Cell Signaling Technology, Clarke University, Boston Museum of Science, Genzyme Corporation, and many, many others, can point to a specific conversation with Walker that buoyed or inspired them to a life of accomplishment in biology.

Where does the circle of discovery end? Says Walker, "It never does."

—David Moore

 

books Find out what Charles Walker is reading...