Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
College of Life Sciences and Agriculture
"I try to facilitate my students’ getting access to more of the world and their own capacities."
A zoologist by training, Jessica Bolker pursues a broad range of professional interests: from fish to philosophy to physics. As a teacher, however, her dedication and motivation are highly focused. “I try to facilitate my students’ getting access to more of the world and their own capacities,” she says.
Bolker greets the business of teaching with fearless creativity. In her writing-intensive Inquiry course Dogs to Dragons: Origins of the Species, and her upper-level evolution course, for instance, she helps students apply evolutionary principles they’ve learned by having them invent a fictional species. “The results are spectacular,” she says.
She offered to help teach the physics course required of nearly all majors in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, thinking it might be more compelling to budding biologists if it were co-taught by one of their own.
And when she observed that undergraduates interested in marine biology don’t often get their feet wet until their junior year, after two years of classroom-based core courses, Bolker created Marine Immersion to “frontload the fun stuff.” A week-long, two-credit course at the UNH/Cornell Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island (of which Bolker is associate director), Marine Immersion introduces as many as 20 first-year biology majors to each other and the world of marine biology in August, before they come to campus.
Now in its third year, Marine Immersion is distinct from other orientation programs: “It’s not just ‘welcome to college,’ it’s ‘welcome to your discipline,’” says Bolker.
For Bethany Jones ’12, a marine biology major, Marine Immersion was an ideal jump-start to college. “I was able to do what I love for a week on one of the prettiest places I have ever been to,” she says. Jones says she formed valuable bonds with fellow students and faculty. “Professor Bolker became an excellent adviser for us when we got to UNH.”
Bolker’s excitement at the transformative power of teaching is palpable as she describes high school students becoming biologists and biologists embracing physics. “If I do my job, then maybe I’m opening a door my students can walk through. My job is to make it possible, but they’ve got to do it.”