Dr. Cathleen Early
I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology at a small, private school, Howard Payne University, in Brownwood, Texas. I loved the small classes and the personal attention students got from their professors. By the time I finished my sophomore year, professors from several classes were encouraging me to consider graduate school. I was a little intimidated by the level of commitment required to complete a Ph.D., but it seemed to me like my Biology professors had the best job in the world and I was determined to join their ranks in academia.
At Howard Payne I double-majored in Biology and Chemistry because I was having a hard time deciding which field I would pursue for my Ph.D. I applied for an undergraduate research grant from the Chemistry Department at Baylor University for the summer after my junior year to help me make a more informed decision. I was enrolled in Vertebrate Zoology the semester I applied for the chemistry grant. By the end of the semester, I had been accepted into the summer program in chemistry, but was pretty certain that my heart was in biology. In Vertebrate Zoology we learned how to capture and identify amphibians, reptiles, and various rodents and bats. I learned so much from working in the field, from seeing the habitat of the different species first hand and trying to understand their behavior well enough to capture them. I followed through on my commitment to the chemistry research program and made some great friends in the Chemistry Department at Baylor, but the experience only further convinced me that I wanted to study biology in the field for the rest of my life, not work at a lab bench.
I attended Baylor University for my graduate work. Although not considered a large research university when compared to UT-Austin or Texas A&M, Baylor far outstripped Howard Payne in the number of professors (22 full-time professors and instructors in the Biology Department compared to 5 full-time professors in Biology at Howard Payne) and minimum class size. The largest class I ever attended at Howard Payne had less than 50 students and most classes didn’t exceed 20. The limit for Baylor’s freshman Biology course for majors was 125! Fortunately the labs I taught as a graduate teaching assistant never had more than 24 students.
Being at Baylor confirmed for me that I wanted to teach at a smaller school where every undergraduate has the opportunity to find a professor they connect with who can encourage them to dream big dreams and help them along the path to success. I made sure I taught a diversity of lab sections, from Plant Taxonomy to Mammalogy, so I would be prepared to teach a wider range of courses once I was professor at a small school.
I began teaching at UMHB in the fall of 2004, one year before I actually graduated at Baylor. My efforts to extend my versatility paid off; I teach a diverse range of courses including Plant Taxonomy, Ornithology, Vertebrate Zoology, and Marine Biology. I feel so blessed to be here at UMHB because most of my classes are field courses and our department and administration still support the idea of taking students into the field as much as possible. Every semester I have the opportunity to take students on field trips where they may develop the same sense of wonder and amazement I first experienced as an undergraduate at Howard Payne.