Video by Columbia College Video Production Strategist Dustin Hawkins

Dr. Tara Martin encourages her students at Columbia College to expand their minds while exploring the complexities of living things.

During lectures and especially in labs, Martin’s contagious enthusiasm is on full display.

“Science is not boring, no matter what you think,” Martin says. “It’s fascinating. It’s so exciting.”

Martin received her Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Missouri. She began as an adjunct professor for CC’s Evening Campus in 2011 before becoming a visiting faculty member with the Day Program in 2016. She now serves as an associate professor of Biology.

Martin teaches a range of courses including Principles of Biology, Clinical Microbiology, Genetics, Molecular Biology and Immunology.

Columbia College Biology Professor Dr. Tara Martin works with a student during a microbiology lab in the Brouder Science Center. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

Despite her lifelong passion for science, Martin initially didn’t expect to teach her favorite subject.

“In grad school, I said I would never teach,” says Martin, who conducted research at the National Institutes of Health during her post-doctoral fellowship. “Then I started with the adjunct teaching, and once I got involved with that, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really great.’

“I am able to share my love of science with students who then equally get excited about everything.”

Martin aims to facilitate a nurturing learning environment in which her students actively engage with the subject matter and experiments. Beyond the content of each class period, she makes a point of getting to know what activities her students are involved in and where they are from.

“I like to interact with my students a lot,” Martin says. “Even in a lecture, I still want that give and take. … It’s not necessarily going to work; it’s kind of like I’m going to go visit my other family.”

“I like to interact with my students a lot. Even in a lecture, I still want that give and take.”

Columbia College Biology Professor Dr. Tara Martin

The Brouder Science Center at Columbia College contains instrumentation and equipment that gives students unique hands-on advantages compared to larger universities, Martin says.

“We are training our students on cutting-edge technology,” she says.

Martin adds that no student going through the Biology Program will navigate the coursework alone, and they will continue to have a network of fellow Cougars long after they graduate.

“Everyone is rooting for you,” Martin says, “and I think that really sets Columbia College apart.”

Columbia College Biology Professor Dr. Tara Martin poses for a photo in the Brouder Science Center. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

Three questions with Dr. Tara Martin

What real-world training is available to Biology students at CC?

“We have our own DNA sequencing system. Most universities don’t have this technology, but we get our students in there to see what the DNA sequence looks like when it comes out. … We are also starting a pilot program with an independent company that administers lab micro-badges. Every laboratory is beginning to recognize these certifications, which students can earn and put on their resume. That’s what labs are looking for – people they can bring in and not have to train from the ground up. … Our Clinical Microbiology lab is actually running the same kind of diagnostic tests that would be run in a hospital lab. … Our students have these techniques and these abilities, and this is what employers want. That makes our students more attractive and it’s just really fantastic.”

What opportunities do CC Biology students typically have after graduation?

“There is a whole lot you can do with a Biology degree. Sometimes that can be overwhelming, but the sky is truly the limit. We have a student currently who is graduating with their bachelor’s in Biology and now they’re going to law school. We’ve had many students go on to medical school, physician assistant school, programs for physical therapy, occupational therapy and genetic counseling. Other students complete their degrees and it’s about exploring internships or where to start working. Our department and the Grossnickle Career Services Center have a lot of connections. I think back to when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I have the opportunity to bring all my experience to help our students.”

How important is innovation when preparing students for careers in science?

“Innovation is critical to science. For most of human history, we didn’t even have electricity, let alone Google. But that’s the thing: Science is moving fast. We’re really hoping to equip our students based on the world they’re going to enter. There are standards that aren’t going to change, but the technology that they’re using is changing, especially now that artificial intelligence is really taking off. AI is not going to do the work for you, but it’s a tool that students can use to further their understanding and research. Everything is going to change, and it’s going to change so fast they just won’t believe it. It’s about training students to think about the next question. What are the next steps? Because that’s where they should be. That’s what’s going to make them successful, no matter what field they go into.”