If it weren’t for an essay answer on a medical school application, Dr. Allen Gathman might be walking the halls of a hospital instead of the Rhodes Hall of Science. After finishing a pre-med degree and taking the MCAT, Gathman had trouble writing about why he wanted to be a doctor. His love of biological research shined through. Instead of heading off to med school, Dr. Gathman decided graduate school would be a better route.
After completing his master’s degree in biology at the University of Arizona, Gathman discovered his love of teaching while finishing his doctorate in genetics. “I found that, when I had both teaching and research responsibilities, the teaching tended to win the battle for my efforts. . .I decided that, if my inclination was to spend a lot of time on teaching, I’d better get a job where teaching was valued. . .,” he said. So for 20 years, Gathman has engaged the minds of Southeast students by using several different styles of teaching. Depending on the course, he uses lectures with question and answer sessions as a way to get students to explore new thoughts and explore new answers. But his primary aim is to get students engaged in a discussion of ideas. “It’s unrealistic,” Gathman explains, “to try and prepare students for careers and life by modeling a situation where there’s always somebody in front of the room who has all the answers.” His UI 415 Science and Religion class is one of the best places he sees this occur.
Teaching is not his only passion at Southeast. Gathman, in collaboration with his colleague, Dr. Walt Lilly, has spent the past 12 years working on the genetics of fungi. Their efforts led to funding by the National Science Foundation for them to collaborate with groups at Duke and the University of North Carolina to locate and characterize all the genes of the fungus Coprinus cinereus. Gathman says this project will provide enough research problems to fill a couple of careers, and he doesn’t need to worry about starting any other projects in the future.
If Gathman’s time is not spent on campus teaching or doing research, you can find him spending it with his wife of 22 years, Robin Hankinson, and their three daughters. If he is not replacing one of the many light bulbs in their home, the old Pocahontas School, he's riding his bike along the country roads or in the kitchen cooking up a masterpiece for dinner. For the past few years, his travel has consisted of driving his daughters to various Irish music and dance lessons and competitions. But next summer Gathman and his wife are planning a professional trip to Spain and hope to get a little respite as well. Gathman also participates in the Choral Union, a non-auditioned, “open membership” choir that draws singers from the area-wide community. His role as family chauffeur prevented him from participating in the past, but he recently rejoined the group and can now enjoy singing and performing challenging but interesting music.
Gathman advises students to broaden their horizons. He sees college as a place where
students can have the chance to explore diverse interests. “It will probably never
be easier for you to explore all kinds of ideas,” he said. “Don’t pick electives
because they sound easy, or they’re subjects you had in high school so you won’t have
to learn something new.” Although he understands students have to prepare themselves
for careers, Gathman doesn’t want anyone to miss out on unexpected learning opportunitiesᾰeven
if they don't involve a fungus.