Senior Instructor · she/her
I attended 8 different schools across Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, and Taegu, Korea during my K-12 education. If that sounds familiar to you than you probably grew up military as well! Growing up, I spent as much time as I could outdoors exploring the natural word around me because I have always been mesmerized by nature. One of my favorite activities in elementary school was scouring local drainage ditches and ponds to observe and collect amphibians. Another dominant force in my life growing up was competitive gymnastics. I dedicated 20 years of my life to this sport, even living away from my family from 7-10th grade to train at top facilities.
I was able to merge both of my passions by attending Seattle Pacific University (SPU) for a B.A. in psychology to learn about animal behavior as well as to compete for their gymnastics team. As you can imagine, my K-12 experience did not adequately prepare me for higher education due to all the school transfers. I was simultaneously terrified and thrilled at the curricular opportunities and challenges my first year at SPU. Through trial and error, as well as mentorship, I discovered a process to learning that enabled me to be successful and helped me see the joy in learning. That process still serves me today and influences my teaching practices.
During my time at SPU, I had the opportunity to do an internship with Dr. Cheryl Frederick, the sun bear zookeeper for the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Dr. Frederick taught me about the biology and behavior of the sun bears she kept, the value and method of literature searches, and trained me in observational data collection. I continued to follow my interests at SPU by taking biology classes to complement my work at the Woodland Park Zoo. Once I started taking field-based courses, I knew the trajectory of my academic career had to include biology. One of those field classes was tropical marine biology in Belize. I took biology classes in earnest after that course to complete all the prerequisites for a Master’s program in Marine and Estuarine Science at Western Washington University (WWU).
At WWU, I worked under Dr. Gisele Muller Parker studying the impact of warming events on coral symbiosis, specifically the heat tolerance of various combinations of animal and algal symbionts. While I really enjoyed lab work, the experiences that sparked my greatest interest during this time were teaching and writing. After I graduated in 2003, WWU hired me to teach their nonmajors biology classes. Since then, my classroom has become my lab and over the years I have been able to tinker with pedagogy and curriculum to study how students learn biology. One of my favorite things about science education is seeing the impact of class structure and curriculum on how nonmajors perceive science. I think that teaching biology and the process of science to students who will not go on to major in STEM fields is an incredibly worthy mission and so I continue to strive to find innovative ways to provide equitable access to science so that every student can be successful and use their understanding to impact their communities.
Outside of work, I spend a lot of time with my family. My husband Travis is the Women’s soccer coach at WWU so you can find our family cheering on the team at home games during the fall and spring seasons. Besides watching soccer, we like to camp, kayak, hike, play board games, and cuddle with our labradoodle Rusty. An ideal day for me would be a hike or kayak followed by an ebike ride to Joe’s garden to grab produce and fresh Avenue bread for dinner. Travis and I often feel like we have won the lottery by being able to live, work, and raise a family in Bellingham. Of all the places I have lived, it is my favorite- although I still crave travel and change!
My research centers around how students learn and think about science and how to optimize classrooms to support learning.
Educational & Professional Experience
B.A., Seattle Pacific University, Psychology, 2000
M.Sc., Western Washington University, Marine and Estuarine Science, 2003
Senior Biology Instructor, Western Washington University, 2003-present
Biology Instructor, Seattle Pacific University, 2006-2008
Biology Instructor, Whatcom Community College, 2003 - 2006
Biology Instructor, Skagit Valley College, 2002
Publications and Conference Presentations
- Deborah A. Donovan and Georgianne L. Connell. Active Learning in College Science: The Case for Evidence Based Practice. 1st ed. Springer International Publishing. Chapter 20. Evolution of a Student-Centered Biology C lass: How Systematically Testing Aspects of Class Structure Has Informed Our Teaching.
- Connell, G.L. and D.A. Donovan. Implementing change in different contexts: Using reformed biology activities in small and large undergraduate classes. Professional Development Symposium “Implementing Vision and Change”. National Association of Biology Teachers. Atlanta, GA. Nov. 20-23, 2013.
- Connell, G.L. and D.A. Donovan. Active Learning Pedagogies Increase Student Learning in a Large Enrollment Biology Class. Irwin L. Slesnick STEM Education Symposium, invitational lecture. Western Washington University, April 25, 2014.
- Georgianne L. Connell, Deborah A. Donovan, and Timothy G. Chambers. Increasing the Use of Student-Centered Pedagogies from Moderate to High Improves Student Learning and Attitudes about Biology. CBE Life Sci Educ, 2016. 10.1187
- Connell, G.L. and D.A. Donovan. Strategies to Create Effective Groups. Irwin L. Slesnick STEM Education Symposium, invitational lecture. Western Washington University, April, 2016.
- Donovan, D.A. and G.L. Connell. Student Learning Outcomes and Attitudes Using Three Methods of Group Formation in a Nonmajors Biology Class. CBE Life Sci Educ, 2018.