Kerri Warren’s first chance to teach an RWU student came long before she joined the Marine & Natural Sciences faculty in 2000. A developmental biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Warren hired an RWU graduate to work in her lab. Having never heard of the University before, Warren was impressed by the young woman’s unabashed enthusiasm for her alma mater.
“Amy was blue and gold through and through,” Warren says. “She just never stopped talking about this place called Roger Williams – I became so curious about it.” The rest, it seems, was fate. Warren – who had never formally considered becoming a teacher – learned that the University was searching for a developmental biologist, and she leapt at the opportunity.
“Research was what I was supposed to be doing,” she says. “But what I really enjoyed was the teaching. Training people in the lab to make the solutions and use the lab equipment was really fulfilling for me.”
These days, Warren gets the best of both worlds. When she’s not busy advising Pre-Med/Pre-Vet Club students, she splits her time between classroom teaching and lab research – in collaboration with her students, of course. But beyond the teaching, the RWU experience for Warren is about learning what interests her students and helping them to develop as young scientists. She constantly encourages her undergrads to take initiative and develop their own projects – not just assist her with her own.
To ensure their success, Warren has committed herself to securing the support the students need – funding, primarily – to complete their projects in an environment that’s professional, yet nurturing. Together, Warren and her student teams have discovered cadmium-induced arrhythmia in zebra fish (spurring new research on cadmium levels in our water sources) and are devising ways to use zebra fish to study cranial-facial development irregularities, such as cleft palate. None of which are small opportunities for undergraduates just getting their feet wet in the lab. “It’s selfish,” Warren says, “because you learn so much from teaching and being able to reach so many students in the classroom, in the lab or through career planning. And having them help me take a new look at the work I’m doing is really rewarding. They’re so much more than just faces in a classroom.”