Distinguished teaching professor of biology Robert O'Donnell, Ph.D., brings an air of likeability to each class he teaches. Modest and conservative by nature, he considers it his job to reach out to students and help them advance in their personal studies.
O'Donnell was born on Long Island and went to Providence College to attain his bachelor's degree in biology. From there he went on to earn his Ph.D. in genetics and do laboratory research on cancer at Cornell University and the University of Rochester. Twenty years ago, while researching in Rochester, the position for professor of biology opened here at Geneseo.
Today, O'Donnell teaches freshman biology, immunology and the biology of cancer, which has been one of his interests since his early research. He lives in Spencerport with his wife, and three of his four children are still in the area. Both he and his wife have extended family on Long Island, and it is the contrast to that environment that he loves about western New York. "Here it's more relaxed and less intense," he said.
O'Donnell teaches freshman and seniors, who represent a dichotomy of perspectives that he enjoys. "The thing I like most about Geneseo are the students themselves," he said. He takes pleasure in "seeing the light bulb turn on in a student's head" and finds himself fortunate to have the relationships he has built with those he has taught. In many cases, he has watched students move on to post-graduate work and higher achievements. More than ever before, he said, "students are focused on higher education."
He finds the most challenging aspect of his work in the time it takes to do things well. While the actual teaching flows almost automatically, the commitments that precede the classroom consume a great deal of time. O'Donnell is frequently asked to write letters of advisement and recommendation and is responsible for work on committees. These are "important things, but they take a lot of time," he said.
O'Donnell finds interacting with students the most rewarding area of his work. "I value my family, my religion, my friendships, and I value the students I teach," he said. Many students sense his enthusiasm and thrive on it. According to Nabila Chaudhry, a sophomore, "he truly was interested in how we did. He wanted us all to do well." Chaudhry emphasized his consistent reliability in and out of class. "[He] took the time to explain things to me until I understood," and "he always has a line of students outside his door," she said
O'Donnell considers himself a consistent man, who is "willing to try new things in the classroom," but is for the most part happy with his life the way it is.
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