MCC biology instructor Terry Davin wins national honor for outstanding faculty

Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley biology instructor Terry Davin has been named a recipient of a new national award for outstanding community college faculty members.

The Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty awards will be presented in April at the American Association of Community Colleges convention in Dallas. This year 49 faculty members from across the nation will receive the Parnell award, which recognizes “individuals making a difference in the classroom” who go beyond what is required “to ensure that students are successful in their academic endeavors.”

Davin was the only recipient from a Missouri college. Likewise, only one recipient was from Kansas. Some states had multiple awardees, such as Arizona with four.

As an East Coast college student — he would earn his bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in forest science in 1979 — Davin wanted to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “somewhere out West.” He would go on to earn a master’s in wildlife and ecology management at  Frostburg State University in Maryland in 1983 and complete doctoral coursework in zoology (all but dissertation) at Southern Illinois University in 1990 .

Those science jobs in the great outdoors “were few and far between,” noted MCC-Penn Valley President Dr. Tyjaun Lee in a nomination letter. “However, as a graduate student he discovered that he enjoyed teaching.”

Davin has been a teacher for 35 years, including one year in high school, five years as a college teaching assistant and two semesters as an adjunct instructor. He joined MCC as a full-time faculty member in August 1990.

Shortly after he started at MCC-Penn Valley, Lee wrote, Davin told his graduate advisor “he was so glad he taught him that a desk or podium should not be a wall between students and faculty, but should be a conduit to encourage discussion.”

In the late 1990s, Davin says, two things happened to dramatically change the way he taught.

One was joining fellow Penn Valley biology instructors in a National Science Foundation project called FIRST — Faculty Institutes Reforming Science Teaching. The goal was to “teach biology the way that we practice biology. As working biologists, we are presented with a problem we have to solve. We then search for information, conduct experiments, etc. that will help us solve this problem. Since then I have tried to structure my classes around this philosophy.”

Davin also launched a learning community with Penn Valley history instructor Greg Sanford.

“We combine our disciplines into a single class that forces students to approach problems from both a historical and biological perspective,” Davin says.

“Now in my classes, students become the biologist or historian and have to logically work through a problem and look for information that will allow them to solve the problem. It’s more difficult for the student, but in the end they learn the material better, and for most they enjoy the class more.”

The Penn Valley biology/history learning community started its 20th year this semester.

Davin also thinks it’s important to help science students as they plan their careers. “Because of my connections with faculty at other educational institutions, I can steer students toward schools and programs that will help them accomplish their goals.”

Davin was involved with the National Science Olympiad for more than 25 years, including a stint as co-director of the Region 3 Missouri Science Olympiad. For at least 15 years, that event was held annually at MCC-Penn Valley.  As communication instructor Kim Wilcox wrote in a supporting letter, Davin has been active in various student-centered  programs, won other awards and served on a variety of college committees.

But what distinguishes Davin, Wilcox says, is his passion for biology, which informs every aspect of his professional life. “To love what you have learned is the starting place for great teaching. Mr. Davin loves biology and that love turned a good teacher into a great teacher.”

Davin “has always been a most beloved biology instructor at MCC-Penn Valley,” says Nancy Harrington, chair of the campus’ Science, Math and Engineering Division. “When I have the opportunity to observe his students in lab, I see focus, discovery, concentration, questioning and inspiration.  These are the ingredients for the scientists of tomorrow.

“As co-workers, we value Terry’s limitless energy and dedication to making MCC a great workplace. Terry has changed thousands of lives, and we are proud to call him a colleague.”

The inaugural award is named for former AACC President and CEO Dale P. Parnell. AACC member colleges could nominate just one faculty member.

As a recipient of the Parnell award, Davin will receive a commemorative medal. Recipients will be honored at an April 29 reception in Dallas, and the awardees’ names will be showcased on a new AACC Faculty Wall of Distinction at the convention.