DOBSON — Anyone looking for tips on being a better teacher need look no further than Surry Community College’s 2016 Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, biology instructor Grayson Patton.
What’s Patton’s secret to success? Besides his immense dedication to the success of his students and passion for his subject, it just might help that in a Grayson Patton class, the classroom is, at times, optional.
While students are quick to acknowledge that all classes taught by Patton are engaging and intriguing, even those with classroom learning and traditional laboratory components, he is especially lauded and revered by those who enrolled in his BIO 146 Regional Natural History course during the spring 2016 semester, which was entirely field-based.
“I’ve never had an instructor in any class at SCC that has been more enthusiastic than Mr. Patton. He really cares about his students and helping them understand the world around them a little better,” said Carol Gause, one of eight students enrolled in BIO 146 during the spring 2016 semester.
For more than 10 years, BIO 146, which Patton describes as “a focus on the fauna and flora of our area,” was not taught at Surry, allowing Patton the freedom of modeling the class on a field biology course from his own undergraduate studies at Milligan College in Tennessee, which he cites as perhaps the course that made the greatest impact on his career.
Patton divided North Carolina into four geographical regions spanning the entire state — the Coastal Plain, the Sandhills, the Piedmont, and the Mountains. After recruiting students, he and the class members committed to exploring the plant and animal wildlife of each region with at least one Saturday day trip. In order to sufficiently fund such a course, Patton received a grant from the Surry Community College Foundation’s Reynolds Ecology Wildlife Fund, which financed aspects of the group’s travels and the purchase of necessary equipment including binoculars and spotting scopes.
No matter the weather, the class was outside, an entire course completely void of seated lectures and labs; the class met around 8 a.m. most Saturdays, took exams on clipboards propped against trees, and as it would seem, Patton turned BIO 146, once nothing more than a course catalog description, into a class as enthralling and inspirational as the one from his past.
Student Hollie Lyons said, “I loved learning about the different species of birds, fish, plants, and insects that were in the regions we visited and finding out why they were there in the first place. I was never bored, and it actually inspired me to become more interested in a career involving biology.”
Gause echoed a similar sentiment, “For me, this class was a confirmation that my choice to major in Environmental Science was the right call. I’ll be able to transfer to a four-year school confident that I’ve made the right choice.”
Throughout the semester, the class explored countless habitats, ecosystems, and wildlife communities. They began by visiting nearby Salem Lake in Winston-Salem and Oak Hollow Lake in High Point, and followed that by spending spring break studying the many birds, marine animals, and plant life of the Outer Banks.
For Patton, as both a biologist and an educator, that particular trip made a special impact.
When discussing the spring break excursion, he said, “It was so good because I didn’t realize this, but for a couple [of students] it was their first time seeing the ocean and being on a boat. It’s so easy to forget that some people don’t have the same experiences that you do. In classes like this, learning so much, gaining so much experience, it’s important, but little things like that really stick with you.”
After returning from the Outer Banks, the class also took memorable trips to Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve in Southern Pines, Grayson Highlands State Park in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, and Roan Mountain near the North Carolina-Tennessee border before finishing up the course in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Robbinsville. The students were so excited for their final trip that they convinced Patton to spend Friday night camping at a site near the forest in addition to their usual Saturday routine.
Patton will teach BIO 146 again during the spring 2017 semester, and if the recent course’s students are any indication, it is a can’t-miss class.
“Not only was this a fantastic learning experience, but it was a very fun one as well, and hands down my favorite class of all time,” said student Miguel Vargas. “I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the environment and nature.”
“The class exceeded my expectations almost immediately,” Lyons said, adding, “It was absolutely fantastic, and I would take it over and over again.”
Registration is open for fall 2016 enrollment. Surry offers many science courses in the biology field, as well as an Associate in Science degree designed for students interested in transferring to a four-year institution and majoring in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) subject. For more information, contact Ashley Morrison at 336-386-3510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.