NerdScholar features Allegheny biology professor

Dawson named to “40 under 40: Professors Who Inspire”

Assistant Professor of Biology and Global Health Studies Rebecca Dawson was named to the second annual list of “40 under 40: Professors Who Inspire” which was published by NerdScholar at the end of March.

This was the second year that NerdScholar, a subsidiary of NerdWallet, has created the list. The online organization seeks to educate people so that they may make informed decisions about personal finances. NerdScholar seeks to do the same for education.

Rebecca Dawson
Amasa Smith
Rebecca Dawson

The nominees for the top 40 list were nominated by a combination of student and faculty recommendations from their respective institutions. According to the website the candidates were “Chosen based on nominations from their students, alumni and faculty colleagues, these women and men — not that much older than their students — are inspiring the young adults of today to be the world leaders and thinkers of tomorrow.”

In NerdScholar’s description of Dawson, the organization praised her dedication to teaching and her willingness to take risks in the classroom, citing her decision to change her entire course curriculum so that her class could learn more about the Ebola outbreak. They also called her “instrumental” in implementing the global health studies program at Allegheny.

Dawson said that being named on the list was an honor, especially as she read about the accomplishments of her fellow honorees, and the remarks of her students.

“It was fantastic,” said Dawson. “…I totally feel like I am undeserving, there is so many people doing so much great stuff…the award didn’t matter, what they [students] had said, that was what mattered.”

Dawson explained that her approach to teaching has always been to give students skills to pursue areas that they find interesting and to equip them for careers in their desired fields.

“I want to give students a real world experience and I want to instill in them passion and excitement and I want to see them find what there, or at least skills to find out what their passion is,” said Dawson. “I like high energy and thoughtful work, and I like working with students.”

Hannah Snell-Larch, ’15, is one of Dawson’s senior project advisees. She said that Dawson creates an atmosphere in class in which all viewpoints and ideas are welcome.

“There’s opportunities to engage in her class and have conversations and I never really felt like, uncomfortable about speaking my mind,” said Snell-Larch.

Snell-Larch explained that she felt Dawson, as an Allegheny alumna of the class of 2000, has a different perspective on the student experience at Allegheny, especially when it comes to the senior project.

“It’s really awesome that she went here, so she kind of  knows what we are going through as far as like the comp stuff goes,” said Snell-Larch. “I think she sees it from a different way than other professors because she has been through it and she is just very level headed about the whole thing.”

Snell-Larch also explained how Dawson is able to be supportive of her seniors while also allowing them to do their own work and explore areas that they find interesting.

While Dawson is her adviser, Snell-Larch explained that just having her as a professor is beneficial. She said that even in classes that are typically lecture-based Dawson works to bring her students into the conversation.

“It just felt more that she really was just as interested in hearing from her students as she was from teaching the information, which for me made the subject a lot easier to learn,” said Snell-Larch.

While Dawson is technically in the biology department, her field of expertise is in global health. Biology Department Chair Lauren French said that the combination of biology and global health makes sense.

French said that when Dawson was hired in 2013, the department saw some obvious connections between the work Dawson was doing and biology. She also said that Dawson seems to be a great fit at Allegheny.

“Her heart is definitely one with Allegheny, as an alum and now a faculty member,” said French.

In addition to her work in the classroom, French cited her extensive work in research, including a health study of the Egyptian population which she conducted shortly before the revolution in 2011.

“It has been exciting having her here and learning from her,” said French. “She definitely has a global view.”

French explained that seeing Dawson receive this award is a point of pride for her, as she was the one who originally hired Dawson.

“She was one of the first people I hired, so I am pretty proud.” said French.