Humans of UD: Drew Stenesen

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Photo courtesy of Kaity Chaikowsky.

Drew Stenesen

Assistant Professor of Biology

The presence of a strong, personal, Catholic community is a characteristic of University of Dallas that attracts people from all over the country. Assistant biology professor Drew Stenesen found UD while searching for a small university that had strong undergraduate interaction.

“I didn’t want to just sit in my office and only have a small number of undergrads come through,” Stenesen said. “I knew I wanted to interact with more than just biology majors.”

Stenesen worked as a postdoctoral researcher for UT Southwestern, but realized late in his career that he enjoyed teaching and wanted that to be a main focus within his career. He was hired as an affiliate, which he described as a “nine-month trial” of the work, but applied for tenure-track as soon as he could.

“It was almost immediate when I came to campus,” Stenesen said. “This was exactly the place I wanted to be. It felt like home.”

UD hired Stenesen for the tenure track, counting his nine months of affiliate as part of his ten year plan. He now runs a lab, researches, and teaches students.

“It’s a unique population of students,” Stenesen said. “I really enjoy it here. It’s a great place to be. You can see it in the students: that’s what everyone said when I interviewed for this position. You look around, and you won’t know what the University of Dallas is until you talk to the students. It’s absolutely true.”

According to Stenesen, the affiliate position solidified the type of professor he desired to be. Now, he works to find ways to get involved in the community and get to know the students better, even the students not majoring in biology.

“[The biology department] is a narrow part of the society,” Stenesen said. “I like my non-majors course: the basic ideas of biology. Through that, I try to bring biology to the entire community.”

With his students, Stenesen focuses on a multitude of topics, such as certain aspects of multicellularity, the relationships between cells and certain populations of cells that are codependent on each other. Last semester, Stenesen held a plasma membrane modeling contest in his Basic Biology course, in which students constructed membranes and displayed them, and awards were given for competitions judged by faculty members.

“I like to try to infuse creativity in some of my assessments, because I think regardless of field, a focus on creativity will benefit you in your future,” Stenesen said.

Stenesen considers himself to be a “molecular geneticist with cellular biology tendencies and neuroscience sprinkled around in there,” and desires to take his research into his teaching.

He finds great interest in the observing the effectiveness of different teaching strategies, in turn using these models to better his own teaching strategies. Some colleges use algorithms to determine how students will do in their classes based off of their past achievements, but he believes that UD students outdo these algorithms, which continuously impresses him.

He stated how impressed he has been with the effects of the liberal arts education on STEM students, especially in their ability to articulate arguments and connect with unique aspects of the biological field.

“I don’t have a liberal arts background, so I wasn’t sure what the benefits of this would be, but you can see it in the students … the liberal arts education gives me a certain amount of freedom to go into societal and ethical implications of these findings in biology,” Stenesen said.

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