En Español. Anil Kapoor is animated talking about science, yet he hesitates talking about himself. His eight years at the Veteran Affairs (VA) hospital in Loma Linda, California, incorporated “research to make veterans' lives better," he said, explaining how he and his colleagues would activate stem cells at the site of a broken bone to "make it heal faster and stronger than if left to heal on its own." He also researched which genes were activated in Post-Traumatic Stress to see how to lessen the chemical reaction in a veteran's brain so they could return to some normality." While Anil’s work served veterans, the far-reaching effects of his research now help other patients with broken bones, severe burns, or traumatic experiences, “to make human life better," he said. Now, he's Phoenix College (PC) Biosciences Department Chair and 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA) honoree, guiding students through biology pre-med classes.
While he received the Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction Award from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in 2020 for his passion and willingness to support students, Anil has aspired to receive PC's Distinguished Teaching Award. "My department has several distinguished teachers," he said. "Patty Finkenstadt and Robin Cotter were honored, and they're some of the best teachers around, not just on this campus. Robin is maybe the best teacher I've ever seen teach. She's made me a better teacher just by pollination." Anil is a popular teacher among students––his classes often fill up in six hours, with students staying up until 3 am to register and reviews on ratemyprofessor.com emphasize his engaging lectures and flexibility. One student wrote: "The best professor I have ever encountered, and I am not being dramatic. If you love biology, this professor will only fuel your passion”––but the Distinguished Teaching Award is special because Anil knows there are so many other great teachers on campus. He continues his praise of colleagues: "Dianne Miller is amazing. Frank Marfai teaches math with robots!"
Anil credits his success as a teacher with remembering how much he struggled in school. Born in England to parents who were born in India, Anil spoke Hindi at home. The family moved to upstate New York when Anil was five years old and he lost his accent in an attempt to blend in at school. Yet, English was still his second language, and no one in his family had gone to college in the US, so things still seemed so foreign. When he sees a student struggling now, he puts himself back in that space and asks himself, What helped me?
Anil teaches BIO156, 201, and 202–for Allied Health Dental and Nursing students, so he can have students three semesters in a row, which makes it a tear-jerker when they leave BIO202. "I know every face, how many kids they have," he said. Before the pandemic, he was against online learning: "I thought it was terrible." While he prefers teaching in person because he likes being around students, he notes how multiple options "give students so much flexibility." He mentioned one student, who works as a medical assistant, attends class online during his lunch hour, and then returns to work. "He works at Banner, only a few miles away, but to commute in that short amount of time is impossible," Anil said. "That’s the only way he’s able to finish his education, so I love that we’re providing these opportunities to people."
Anil attended community college as an undergraduate and planned to study psychology, but he had to take a science class for non-science majors and took an environmental science class. "The instructor talked about the environment as if we could still do something about it, still fix it, so he lit a fire in me to do something in that field," Anil said. "I don't know what I'd be doing now if I hadn't found that community college teacher at the right time. It wouldn't be biology." As Biosciences department chair, he's quick to point out how his colleagues in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) are coming together to help the planet.
He also notes how the pandemic awakened the need for more flexibility in all areas. "In America, if you were working 60-hour work weeks, you were prized," he said. "Now, people realize family is more important, their quality of life is more important. That flexibility to turn off work or pick up a project and finish it on their own time is huge. Students are benefitting from that." His family includes his wife and five-year-old daughter. Anil read an article that indicated students are more likely to feel at home if they come to campus at least three or four times, so he brings his daughter to campus a lot. He also writes grants to make PC's campus accessible to middle and high school students with STEM-themed summer camps or school year events, most recently Hermanas, which hosted high school girls on campus for a day of STEM-related activities.
While Anil doesn't steer the conversation away from himself on purpose, it’s clear he prefers to attend to the needs of his students and the people in front of him to find ways to make human lives better. Much like the community college teacher who inspired him to pursue the sciences, Anil has become the teacher PC students can point to in those transformative moments of "right teacher, right time, right place." Congratulations Anil!
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