This month, we’re spotlighting St. George’s faculty member Dr. Gwen Alexander. This is Dr. Alexander’s first year at St. George’s, where she serves as the Upper School biology and anatomy & physiology instructor.
Dr. Alexander’s love of chemistry was built during her own upper school years. As a 10th grade student, she enrolled in her school’s traditionally required high school chemistry course. As timing would have it, her teacher was out for a large portion of the year on parental leave, which created additional challenges for her peers as they worked to grasp an already challenging subject with a substitute teacher. Dr. Alexander and a small group of her peers decided that learning chemistry was critically important, so they invested their time and energy into learning the subject outside of the classroom. This exercise in self-education deepened her admiration for the subject and propelled her to study it further in college.
After high school, she attended Spelman College, where she was an active member of the university’s undergraduate research program. She studied life sciences and was particularly interested in the intersection of biology and chemistry. Her research prompted her to continue her education at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where she earned her Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry. Dr. Alexander continued her post-doctoral research at the Medical College of Georgia, where she also taught anatomy and physiology to health students at a local Augusta university.
For eight years and counting, Dr. Alexander has taught students by meeting them where they are. She aims to instill a belief that although science is challenging, and extensive investment in the subject is often reserved for students who consider themselves to be “smart” or science-brained, it is all around us, and is something that everyone interacts with throughout their day. It is not reserved for a certain group of people, it is for everyone. She hopes to cultivate confident students by creating a safe space in which no question is too simple to ask.
“I want to create a culture of inquiry where no one is afraid to engage in or approach different topics,” she said. “One way to do that is by connecting science to everyday life.”
That connection piece is critical to not only Dr. Alexander’s science courses, but to St. George’s overall educational philosophy. In the same spirit as her colleagues across disciplines, Dr. Alexander encourages her students to use the knowledge they obtain in class and apply it to the world around them. Just a few weeks ago, she took her class exploring around the beautiful SGIS campus to kick off their ecology unit.
“I want my students to see how important chemistry is to everyday life – the world around you exists because of chemistry," she said. “At St. George’s, making these connections is easier because our students take physics first. That sets a foundation for biology, chemistry and other advanced sciences that come later. My students can make connections to life because they understand how AND why things happen in science – they are all interconnected.”
But, education without passion is not engaging or active. Thankfully for our students, Dr. Alexander’s love for sciences is infectious. Her entire teaching philosophy is rooted in her belief that students need mentors and educators who are not only learned but passionate.
“Young people spend so much time with their teachers. Having an instructor who is teaching what they love creates life-long learners,” Dr. Alexander said. “And trust me, students can tell whether or not their instructor is passionate.”
Lucky for the students of SGIS, Dr. Alexander is passionate about science. So passionate, in fact, that she wants to ignite the same love of science among her female students, especially her female students of color.Growing up, Dr. Alexander recounts she didn’t see much representation of women in science, and the numbers of women of color in the academic and professional science fields were even lower. Dr. Alexander hopes to continue to connect with her female students of color to assist them in exploring their passions, hoping that they feel encouraged seeing a woman who looks like them in the field.
“Representation matters, and it will be a wonderful experience to represent women of color at St. George’s,” she said.
So far, it has already been a fantastic first semester with Dr. Alexander. She recounted a few students who have already told her that they look forward to her class every day.
“Hearing that my students are excited for my class is one of the most wonderful things ever!”
Thank you, Dr. Alexander, for your passion for science and for St. George’s students!
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