CTI Podcast - Episode 27: Bill Heyborne

Tony Pellegrini: Good morning, good morning, listeners. Tony Pellegrini here from the CETL office. And we're doing our monthly podcast on teaching and learning at Southern Utah University. We have a valued guest with us today: Bill Heyborne from the biology department. Bill is- I'm gonna let Bill tell you a little more detail about Bill but Bill is an associate professor of biology. Last year, he was our board of trustees faculty award winner. We're very proud of Bill in the achievements he's made. And we want to steal some of his great ideas this morning if that would be okay. So Bill, would you take a moment or two to introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about yourself and then we'll just jump into the questions. Does that sound okay with you?

Bill Heyborne: Sounds great! Thanks. I really appreciate the opportunity to come and just chat for a few moments. Tony, really thank you for the opportunity. Let's see. I'm a native of Southern Utah. I grew up in Kanab. I was actually born here in Cedar City. This was where my dad grew up. My 90-year-old grandmother still lives a couple blocks from campus, so that's kind of fun. I didn't start my undergraduate education here, but I ended up transferring here and graduated from SUU back in the dark ages. And had a phenomenal experience here. It was night and day different from the experience that I had when I began my undergraduate career, so transferring here was just a tremendous opportunity for me. And so, I finished my degree here, took a year off, which was a good decision for me for a number of reasons, and worked in the biology field, and then went on and did a masters degree and a PhD and ended up teaching somewhere else in the Midwest. And I was there for a few years and then an opportunity came up to come back to SUU. I honestly didn't think I would ever end up back here. It just- I don't know- I thought I had different goals and whatever, but I was always experiencing some pressure from family about "when are you coming back to Southern Utah?" and I always just said, "There's not a- there's not a job that fits with my skill set." And then a job came up here that did fit. So then I was like, "Okay. Here's my chance. I'm going to apply. I won't get it, but then, I can at least get them off my back. Like ‘I applied and they didn't want me.'" But obviously, I applied and they DID want me! So then, it was a challenging set of decisions that had to be made, regarding whether we wanted to come back to Southern Utah, but we did. And it's been- it's been great, so this is year eleven for me here at SUU.

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting, exciting, and time flies fast, doesn't it?

Bill Heyborne: Oh my god.

Tony Pellegrini: And we were talking before. The talk before the talk. Boy, it's a lot different than even eleven years ago, isn't it?

Bill Heyborne: It sure is. And I think back to what it was like when I was an undergraduate here. It's just- I mean, the heart and soul is the same, but the opportunities that are here, it's such a different place.

Tony Pellegrini: And I think that is wonderful. One of the things that I wanted you to address today is maybe those opportunities- those opportunities that you see through the activities, clubs, sports that you sponsor and support here. What're some of the things that you do to support those opportunities?

Bill Heyborne: Yeah, so I advise a couple of different groups here on campus. One is Omicron Delta Kappa, national leadership society. So I was not involved with this group as an undergraduate, but the really cool thing about ODK is you can- the circles that exist on campuses, they can induct students, they can induct faculty. They can induct staff. Even induct community members who are closely aligned with the University. And they can invite them to be a part of the circle. So I was actually inducted as a faculty member at my prior institution and really fell in love with the organization and what it represents and what opportunities it presents for students. So, during my first year here on the SUU campus, they were trying to get a circle established here. If you remember Donna Adelmon. So Donna was an ODK member and was trying to get a circle here, and it's not small feat to get a circle on your campus because this is a very prestigious honor society. And so- Donna sent out an email, "Are there any other ODK members on campus?" And I figuratively raised my hand and then- so got involved in bringing the circle to campus. So I've been involved with ODK here on the SUU campus for just my entire time. And just a great opportunity. I get to rub shoulders with some really amazing student leaders. Because you know, we tend to induct people like student body presidents and those sorts of folks. And so it's just a great opportunity for me to learn from them and learn principles of leadership that I haven't  necessarily thought about before, and provide some help and support from those students as they're crafting their own leadership style and serving in the community and beyond. It's just- it's been a real joy to watch that happen. So we just had the induction of new members last week on campus. It was actually kind of fun. Former president, Mike Benson, he's at another institution in North Carolina now. He's on the national board for ODK now, so he was our keynote speaker. You know, remotely, one of the cool things we've learned is how to use zoom and other tools effectively. So he zoomed in and gave the keynote, and it was just fun to reconnect with him a little bit and it was just a fun opportunity. So, in addition to ODK, the other student organization that I advise here is the SUU Animal Ambassadors, so you may have seen us out and about, we got all these critters we use as a hook, as a tool, to get young people in particular really interested in STEM. And so we- let's see, this semester, we've got forty student volunteers, forty-nine or something student volunteers who are doing programming. We visit with about eight thousand people a year around Southern Utah. And actually, not just Southern Utah because we've been down to Northern Arizona and into Eastern Nevada. But we take our critters on the road and- use them in a way to engage with kids and get them thinking about and talking about science and who doesn't get excited about snakes and lizards and-

Tony Pellegrini: Me.

Bill Heyborne: Oh come on! What about turtles? Do you like turtles and frogs?

Tony Pellegrini: Okay, yes.

Bill Heyborne: Everybody loves turtles. So it's funny because we bring out a turtle and you get all the "awww!" And then you bring out a snake and then it's *gasps*. So it's just really interesting people's differing reactions to the animals that we bring out. I love love love love love the opportunity that I have to be in elementary schools, in particular. And just see the excitement that kids have for that stuff and if we can foster that a little bit and keep them interested. We always talk a little about college and career readiness when we're in those situations. I always have my students talk about what they study at SUU and how fun college is. So hopefully, it's planting in those kids' minds, "You know, someday I'm going to go to college, and I'm going to study this stuff because it's really fun." And maybe some of them will come to SUU. So Tony, those are the two student organizations that I lead around campus. 

Tony Pellegrini: You are preparing future animal ambassadors.

Bill Heyborne: That's right! That's right! Maybe mathematicians or engineers or you know, whatever.

Tony Pellegrini: Well, it is a joy. It is always a joy. And over the eleven years you've been here, it's been a joy to visit you, but I don't come to your office very often. I think I came once. So in here- you have to be careful when you go to Bill's house.

Bill Heyborne: You never know what I might have tucked away in my pocket, Tony!

Tony Pellegrini: That's true. That's true.

Bill Heyborne: There might be some cockroaches in there or a lizard or something.

Tony Pellegrini: Lizard and cockroaches I can step on. But it's the snakes that scare me. Anyway, I do appreciate you. I was very interested to hear about your connection to Cedar, your background here to Southern Utah. What were some of the things from your Southern Utah background that helped you prepare or decide to become a teacher? I know that you took a year or two off, as you explained to get into biology and work on some of those aspects. What led you to teaching?

Bill Heyborne: That's a great question. So I'll be honest and say- well, when I first started out, I was going to be a veterinarian. That was my goal. And then, I lost interest in that along the way for a variety of reasons, so I didn't really know what I wanted to do. So I was taking all of the prerequisites to sort of open up every available opportunity. So I took all the premed stuff, all the predental stuff, I just didn't know. At some point, I just thought, "Maybe  I'll be a teacher." I had some really great and influential teachers growing up, including a really influential high school biology teacher who I'm still in contact with. We still talk about things. Anyway, in the infinite wisdom of the education program, they stuck me into a course, a twenty hour practicum that very first semester that I expressed interest in education. And they put me in the old Cedar middle school, it was just across the street from campus here. And I spent about seven minutes in that class, and I realized this is not for me. I honestly think that middle school teachers should be the highest paid employees in our country. Like let me get on my soap box here. Those people, they deserve like the ultimate reward in heaven someday, right, for doing what they do because middle schoolers are tough. And I- so I just realized I don't have the disposition to deal with middle school kids. So I did my twenty hours, but it was painful. It was so painful, but I realized this was the end of the road for me, in terms of, you know, being an educator. And then, so I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And at one point along my road, Professor Dingembird, who's still here on our campus, he asked me some really pointed questions about graduate school and got me interested in graduate school. So then, I went off to grad school and I had the opportunity to do a little teaching while I was a graduate student and then I realized, "Oh my gosh. College students! They're a lot more fun than middle schoolers! I think I can do this!" So when I finished my masters degree, I had some time on my hands because I was waiting for my wife to finish her degree, so then I started teaching adjunct at a community college system in Oregon. And I did that full time for a couple of years, was on several different campuses, driving all over western Oregon trying to get enough courses to make ends meet. But man, I loved that. Loved it. And so when it came time to pursue a PhD, I was not only looking for something that I messed with in terms of my discipline, but I really wanted somewhere that was going to help me develop as a teacher, as an educator. So I ended up in the University of Northern Colorado because they have a program in biology education which is what I did for my PhD. And there are two tracks that you can do there. For your research, you can do biology content or you can do education stuff like pedagogy stuff. And I did biology content stuff because that's what my first love stuff was, but then I took a bunch of coursework in education. You know, I took ed psych and educational theory and all this stuff. And had a very carefully mentored teaching experience as a graduate student. I put together an entire course, but I worked with an experienced faculty member to put that all together. And it just solidified my desire to work at this level and my love for teaching and learning with college students, so anyways, kind of a long answer to your question.

Tony Pellegrini: No, that's great.

Bill Heyborne: That's my- that's my journey.

Tony Pellegrini: Well that gives our listeners a connection. Another way to connect with you as well. I think that's wonderful and I love that, you know, I love that, again, combination of teaching and content. And how both are important passions for you. I think that's very profound, very powerful. With your addressing issues such as psychology or those types of efforts, certainly, you have acquired some methods to check for your learners' understanding along the way, as they- as they're in your class. Just teaching, you're helping learners. How do you help your learners recess, are they getting it, so they can move forward? Is it just paper and pencil? What do you do?

Bill Heyborne: Oh well, there's definitely some paper and pencil stuff, right, but that's much more summative for me. The formative stuff is the stuff that happens all along the way, everyday, every minute that I'm in the classroom with the students. I think that a big part of that for me is body language and I hope that I've really become astute over the years of reading students' body language. You know, the furrowed brow or the head and the hand. Those are pretty overt signs, but you know, just as you're working through things, working through an activity, or having a discussion or whatever, you can read faces, right? If students are making eye contact and they're nodding affirmatively, you know, I feel pretty good that they're engaged, they're following the conversation. If I see them tuning out, I see them shaking their head, or kind of furrowing their brow, I recognize "Oh they're not getting this, they're not connecting in some way." So it gives me the opportunity to just back up and maybe start again. Some more overt ways that I do that. I do a lot of thumb-o-meter in my class. You know, so if you're totally getting this, that's thumbs up. If you have no idea what we're talking about, that's thumbs down. And where are you on that thumb-o-meter? I use that all the time with my students. And then it allows me to just look around the room and quickly see: hey half of the class is below the halfway mark. We can't just leave this idea yet because they're still not getting it, so let's figure out another way to connect with this concept. I also use- I use 3x5 cards in my class a looot. I used to use these electronic tools like thoughtpad, and all these things that I could ask little questions and have them respond, but I got frustrated with the technology because inevitably, there were a handful of students who you know, their phone was dead. They couldn't get on the wifi. It was just the frustrations of technology. It became too much for me, so I'm just asking all the students in my classes, "hey, buy a pack of 3x5 cards" when we start the class, and you're going to use these to communicate with me. So if we're moving through something and we get to a point where I sort of feel like I'm ready to move on to the next thing. I'll say, "take out a 3x5 card." And allow the students to "okay, selfcheck" and ask them a couple of questions orally and have them respond and I have them quickly pass them in and flip through them really quickly and see kind of where they are. We sometimes do that as a ticket out the door at the end of class. What was the main point of today? What was the muddiest thing today? You know, what're you still not understanding? Sometimes after a long weekend, I'll use a 3x5 card as a way to just engage with the students regarding their personal lives. "Hey, tell me two fun things you did this weekend!" So it's not always all serious because I think an important part of that relationship in the classroom is having the students see you as a person and you recognizing that they're people too. And so having that 2x5 card allows for a little of back and forth dialogue, even in a big lecture class. And then, as they pass them to me, "oh my gosh, somebody went rock climbing this weekend! Where did you go?" And so engage in just a little bit of conversation. But I love those 3x5 cards as a way to check understanding just as we go.

Tony Pellegrini: Well and your connection with and love for and passion for Southern Utah. You know many of those hikes. You know many of those places. You've been there. Not that you're- well it's not really about biology but it's a way to stay connected. And like you've mentioned, you stay connected with your own middle school teacher that you've said. And it's with those experiences and activities that that happens so content is important but you're teaching human beings. You're teaching content but you're teaching human beings. You know, it's easy to see. Well for me, I'm sitting here, but it's easy to hear, it's easy to sense, it's easy to perceive your love for Southern Utah, your love for Southern Utah University, your love for teaching. Can you talk us through about kind of what developed that love? How that passion created and has developed over the years? Is that a possibility?

Bill Heyborne: Yeah yeah yeah. Absolutely. I think part of my disciplinary enthusiasm is just- it was just inborn in me and then just the supported by my parents really early. I sometimes tell my students I have the greatest job in the world because I was the little kid who was out, poking around the banks and creaks, you know whatever every day, and collecting bugs and lizards and snakes and putting them in my pockets. So you know, we joked about that earlier, but that's really something I did as a kid. I put them in my pockets or a mason jar or whatever and haul them home and show my mom. And my mom was naturally kind of squeamish about those things, but she didn't let that be known. She was so supportive of me and those interests and took interest in that love and passion of mine. And so I tell my students, I just never grew up. I'm still that little kid who goes out to catch bugs and snakes and whatever and put them in my pocket, but instead of taking them home to show my mom, I now bring them to campus to show my students. And so my mom's pretty happy about that.

Tony Pellegrini: Indeed.

Bill Heyborne: Indeed. So that part has never changed. I've always been enthusiastic about sharing nature and science and whatever with other people. My enthusiasm for working with higher red and SUU in particular has definitely grown over the years. And it's become more complex over the years too because it's just changed from just this love of the discipline to an understanding of how complex the learning process is and I guess my goals in life has changed from how much biology can I teach my students to how can I help my students to think about the world in new ways? And how can that then benefit them as they go out into the real world? And so of course, I want them to learn some biology along the way, right? But particularly with my non-major students, I really don't care. Everyone in biology, don't listen to this next part, okay? Like, I really don't care if they memorize the dits and bits and parts and pieces of bodies or ecosystems or whatever concept I'm teaching. That's so inconsequential in terms of their real life. What I really want them to take away is a fascination with how their body runs. So you know, if I'm teaching human biology or a fascination with the natural world around them, an appreciation for those things and understanding of how finally balancing those things are and little preservations can really set things along the wrong path, whether that's with our own personal health or that's with global- human induced change on the planet. That's really what I want them to take away because they're going to need to care about those things as they go on to be lawyers and teachers or doctors or whatever it is they're going to be. That biology- that the specifics of the biology that we do along the way is just a vehicle for helping them develop as thinkers or learners. And as they go off into their real world lives, hopefully they'll remember enough about that passion that they felt for biology that when questions arise, they'll seek out that information on their own. There's not enough time in the world to just dump in their brains all the little dits and bits, right? It's really all about thinking like a biologist. And that's what I hope to install in my students.

Tony Pellegrini: And that would make great citizens of the world. To be able to help them appreciate that. Bill, you've been absolutely a wealth of wisdom today. I don't want to leave without any of your wonderful ideas and suggestions. Any last words of wisdom for teachers or learners here at SUU to make life a better life as we move forward?

Bill Heyborne: Yeah, you know, one thing I've been thinking about a lot recently, and talking with some of my colleagues and friends about, is, and I think this has been really brought to the forth front by the global pandemic and the way that we as educators have had to sort of switched up how we approach teaching and learning relationship, and what I've come to understand than ever before is, our learners are just people, just like we are, right? And they have hard things in their lives, and I don't know, I think prior to the pandemic, I don't want to say that I was hard nosed, but I think that my level of empathy was lower. And I think that the pandemic has increased my level of empathy. And I'm not so skeptical anymore when students come to me and they're like "oh yeah, my grandma died." You know, these old sort of jokes about you know, you got six grandmothers and they all died this semester, wow. I'm just a little bit more willing to take students at face value. And if they come to me, "hey I'm having a hard time with XYZ." I want to engage in some conversation with them and then let's find a way to work around that and help you to still be successful. So I guess my last sort of word of wisdom here is: student, teachers, we're all people. And this is a very human-centered enterprise that we're all engaged in. People aren't perfect, people do and say dumb things. Yeah me too. I tell my students sometimes that my mouth opens and junk falls out before my brain engages. We all just need to afford one another a little bit more grace. And it makes this work that we're engaged in so much more enjoyable when we recognize that in general, people are doing the very best that they can with the tools that they have available and again, sometimes they screw up or fall short or do dumb things, they make poor decisions, but you know, we can work together and find solutions to that. And that's where that grace comes in.

Tony Pellegrini: I love that filter of grace. You know, you're using that filter as it comes in but, Bill, that's a two-way street, isn't it?

Bill Heyborne: Yeah it is!

Tony Pellegrini: People see you through that filter as well too. And that's how we're going to make things work in the next few-

Bill Heyborne: Yeah, totally agree.

Tony Pellegrini: Bill, what a joy to be with you! Thank you so much for sharing this time with us today. Friend out there, be brave. There's a Bill in his office. You never know what you'll find, but it'll be worth your time.

Bill Heyborne: There's not a snake in there. There is a big lizard but not a snake, so come on by, Tony.

Tony Pellegrini: That, I can handle. If you'd like, I think Bill would be very open to if you want to come into his classroom, watch his cards, watch his thumbs up thumb-o-meter.

Bill Heyborne: Absolutely.

Tony Pellegrini: Come by and make a visit to that. We appreciate you, Bill. We're grateful for your association and clagality here on campus. Please keep it up. We love your passion and your personality. Friends out there, we'll see you next month. Thank you so much for all you do and make it a good day!


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