Gburg biology department welcomes new Gondwe scholar

Gondwe Scholar Zakiya Watley

Gondwe Scholar Zakiya Whatley. Photo courtesy of

Courtesy of GCC&M

As an early graduate student, Biology professor Zakiya Whatley never thought she would end up teaching at a small liberal arts school like Gettysburg College. Having earned her Ph.D. studying genetics and genomics at Duke Uni-versity, she envisioned her career taking her to a large research institution.

All of that changed when she visited campus for an on-campus interview and interacted with our students.

“When I first visited Gettysburg, I got to see this really great relationship between students and faculty members,” Whatley said. “They were doing research together, side by side, and the students really took ownership of their projects. They wanted to know what I could bring to that type of environment. That was what convinced me to come here.”

Whatley is now in her second year of teaching at Gettysburg. In addition to her core biology courses, she has designed her own First-Year Seminar called The Fault in Our Genomes and is pursuing her post-doctoral research.

As the College’s first Gondwe Scholar within the STEM field, Whatley is pursuing her post-doctoral research, which focuses on the bacterial stress response and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance within naturally occurring biofilms.

“The Gondwe Scholars program is a pretty unique opportunity,” said Whatley. “It gives me the opportunity to teach my own course, have my own lab space and work with students. I get to see first-hand what it is like to be a full-time faculty member at a liberal arts college, while also receiving the support I need in order to pursue my research and design my own courses.”

The Gondwe Scholars program is unique in name to Gettysburg – it was named in honor of Dr. Derrick K. Gondwe, Gettysburg College’s first tenured African American professor, an economist who founded the Africana Studies Department. Its goal is to promote diversity within the faculty by providing recipients with the support to pursue individual research while teaching classes. It falls within the scope of The Consortium for Faculty Diversity, which seeks to promote the diversity of students, faculty members and curricular offerings at member institutions.

This program appealed to Whatley for more reasons than one – not only would she have more time to devote to her research, but she could also pursue her passion of promoting diversity, particularly within the STEM field.

“Promoting diversity is everyone’s job,” Whatley said. “I want to make sure that I am doing that, not just in the course that I teach but in the work that I do, too.”

To that end, Whatley has co-founded and serves as Deputy Director for Ripen the MeriSTEM and is also an advisory member for Project Y.E.S. Academy, both of which seek to provide support and opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

Within her courses, Whatley has employed methods to engage student interest in STEM courses. Her First-Year Seminar focuses on genetic testing, and instead of focusing on the father of genetic studies, Gregor Mendel and his testing on pea plants, students explore the implications of determining their own genetic makeup.

“When people can see themselves in what they are learning, they are more engaged,” Whatley said. “You have this buy in – they see how they fit into what they are learning, and most of the time that makes them want to learn more. If you can build that type of engagement in a course, you are much more likely to keep students interested in the material and interested in the sciences.”

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