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David Roll, 72

Professor of chemistry, biochemistry and human biology at Roberts Wesleyan College wraps up a distinguished 40-year teaching tenure at Roberts Wesleyan College.

By Ernst Lamothe

Describe what teaching in the midst of a pandemic has been during the last year?

It definitely has been a revelation. When the virus started making national news in March 2020, we couldn’t have foreseen the kind of year it has been. It was a wake-up call. I used email more in the last year communicating with students than ever before. I did find that when you are communicating with people by email, you learn a little more about them in a way where they wouldn’t be as direct with you in class. We utilized Zoom and Google Meet to do work and we met face to face for lab work. You realize how essential it is to have real interaction in a classroom but we still made it work as much as we could online.

Was it difficult having a science class become virtual?

It certainly was. When you do lab work, you need a feel of what is going on and you need to be able to first-hand see and create any experiments. It was a different experience. Plus with one of my classes, we always had a health professional come and meet with the students face to face and discuss medicine and pharmacy and that was something we were not able to do.

How did you decide this was going to be your last year?

I have been thinking and talking to myself for the past five years. Every year, I would think is this going to be the year I retire? I continued because I still had a passion every year and I believe it is important to keep that passion and you should never enter teaching without it. Then about a year ago, I decided that while I still loved teaching, I had done it for 40 years and there were other things that I wanted to look at doing with my life.

How has teaching changed during your four decades.

The number one thing that has changed of course is the technology of how you teach. When I first started we would use a mimeograph which produces copies from stencil. You could smell the aroma of paper going through that machine in the classroom. Then we moved to transparencies where you could put material to use with an overhead projector. Then the computer revolution came and it was something we could never have imagined and it has been a revelation when it comes to teaching biochemistry and chemistry. Students can isolate their DNA and amplify it and study it. We are currently cloning a gene from plants in the student laboratory with the advances in molecular biology. Those are experiments that would have been impossible when I first started teaching.

How have students changed?

That’s the one thing that I would say has stayed the same. I don’t know if there are any major changes I have found across the spectrum of students 40 years ago as opposed to now. I would say today’s students are facing financial challenges when it comes to college like never before. Some students are highly motivated and valid learners and others are not, but that has always been the case.

What made you decide to go into science?

I was interested in chemistry at a young age. I had my Gilbert Chemistry Set that you purchased as a kid and that is all I needed. Then in junior high I started to read books on chemistry and sciences and that is when I knew that is what I wanted to do in college.

Why do you think being a good teacher is essential?

I was lucky as early as the sixth grade to have a teacher who helped pushed by passion for science. It lets you know the impact of a great teacher in your life. Teachers have the ability to shape you and fuel your interest. I certainly know I love to inspire students into doing research or going into the health profession and making a difference. Also being part of a smaller school like Roberts Wesleyan you can really connect with students in a smaller class setting. I have had students where I taught them and eventually taught their child at Roberts. That is special to me.

What will you do in your spare time?

I still jog three miles a day so I am going to keep my exercise regime going. I think it helps clear the mind and makes your body feel strong. I might do some volunteer work as part of a Christian agriculture ministry that helps farmers find efficient ways to raise crops.

Photo: David Roll of Caledonia has thought about retirement for the last five years. He decided this year is the right time to do so.