North Central College - Naperville, IL

Tireless Teacher

He wasn’t always, but he is now.  A small-college guy, that is. Jonathan Visick, assistant professor of biology, experienced his conversion in graduate school. A top microbiology student at Brigham Young University, he entered the University of Washington for his Ph.D., thinking research would be his thing.

As a teaching assistant, he served as a lab instructor and gave the occasional lecture. Then, during one life-changing semester, he was asked to take over the entire class for an ailing professor. “I really liked the student contact,” Visick says. “I decided, then and there, that what I wanted was research and teaching.”

Convinced from experience at two small colleges in the Northwest that a small-school environment was the place to do both, he joined the North Central faculty in 2000.

Says his colleague Steve Johnston, “He was already a good teacher. Over the last several years, he’s been developing into a superior teacher.”

But what do his students think?

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for Dr. Visick,” wrote Wade Hicks ’02, in nominating his mentor for a Dissinger Award for Outstanding Teaching, which Visick received in May 2004. “After taking Dr. Visick’s genetics course I knew that was exactly what I wanted to focus on,” said Hicks, who’s now at Brandeis University pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology.

Visick’s courses and labs are challenging, as he pushes students to integrate and synthesize their knowledge. Yet — funny thing — they’re also among the most popular.

Toni Thomas ’03 remembers Visick’s ability to teach the same thing in several ways, to appeal to different learning styles. She also admired his patience with her rookie research experiments. “I witnessed him calmly explain the same simple idea to a student (me) several times over the course of a summer.”

It’s a challenge Visick eagerly embraces, since it’s only in performing their own research that students truly blossom. “In course labs,” he explains,” we try to bring them along the path, but they don’t really understand until they’re in a small group doing real research and have to take ownership of their work.” Visick’s students work independently on projects within his area of expertise — protein repair in bacteria, which holds promise for a better understanding of human aging.

 Visick shares with his colleagues in North Central’s Science Division a commitment to developing the research skills of undergraduate students because that’s how they learn what science really is.

“The program at North Central is as good as at schools with bigger reputations in science,” Visick says. In recent years, North Central science students have won prestigious honors like a Soros Fellowship for New Americans, a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Pre-Doctoral Award and a National Science Foundation Research Fellowship. North Central’s top science alumni are pursuing graduate education at places like Duke, the University of North Carolina, Brandeis and Loyola Medical School. 

“People tell me our students know what they’re doing,” says Visick. Clearly he’s been big part of that.

Jonathan Visick, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biology