Editor’s Note: This story was included in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine. Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety!
By Maria Haynie
There are more than 14 zoos and aquariums in the state of Missouri, and Dr. Peggy Wright, associate professor of biology, shares stories about her personal experiences at each one with her Columbia College students. It doesn’t take long for her students to realize which creature their professor is most interested in: fish.
“I firmly believe that fish are the most fascinating organisms,” Wright says. “I try to offer ichthyology, the study of fishes, at least every other year, and this is the course I’m most passionate about. I also really enjoy teaching zoology, where I can to explore all animal life and weave in concepts of evolution.”
Her own career evolution has taken turns that surprised her. While her love of fish and animals was clearly strong enough for her to pursue bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in fisheries and wildlife from the University of Missouri-Columbia, she did not expect to spend her career as a professor.
“I came to Columbia College in 2002, originally as the science lab coordinator,” says Wright. “I was soon teaching part-time for the department. Right around the time I completed my Ph.D., I was hired on as full-time faculty. Although I never planned on teaching being my career, now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
After 15 years with Columbia College, her interest in fish survives, but so does her other passion: research design. For the past several years, Wright has been researching with students about the effect of bisphenol A on organisms including fish, fruit flies, tiny crustaceans and plants. Bisphenol A is commonly found in plastics and household products, but it “has the potential to disrupt normal hormone function in a wide variety of organisms, including humans,” according to Wright.
“As I lead students through designing and implementing a semester-long research project, I can fully explore my love of statistics,” says Wright. “We showcase the results of this work each year as part of the Science Symposium in the spring.”
Outside of the classroom, Wright is currently serving as the co-chair of the General Education Steering Committee. The committee has spent more than a year developing potential revisions to the General Education program “with the hope that we can suggest a new, innovative curriculum that will serve Columbia College into the future,” explains Wright.
The first step was defining which skills and abilities all Columbia College graduates should possess. The committee’s research included a survey of faculty, staff, students and administrators. Armed with this feedback, they set out to define goals and outcomes that will define the new General Education program.
Then, the committee moved forward in two directions. Faculty used the new goals and outcomes to revisit their department’s courses and propose which courses might serve those goals. At the same time, the committee was working with a larger group of faculty and staff to develop the overall curriculum model for the program.
“It has been a challenge to address the many concerns from our diverse learning community, especially how to develop a program that works for all venues and for transfer students,” says Wright. “The conversations about General Education and how we can provide all students with the skills they need to succeed in the world today have been a focus for me this past year.”
The interest in research and animal life extends into Wright’s family life and hobbies as well. This year, Wright celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband, Ray, who is a research specialist with the Farms and Centers at the University of Missouri. Together they have four children: two daughters, both juniors in college studying Japanese and physics; another daughter who is a junior in high school; and a 12-year-old son. In addition to raising their children, the family raises wheat, milo and sheep on their 60-acre farm in Cooper County, Missouri.