Unger has the ‘greatest job in the world’

(Photo by Dr. Dave Unger)
Unger holds a mountain lion cub that was captured as part of the Colorado Mountain Lion Project on the Uncompahgre Plateau in western Colorado.

Dr. Dave Unger is Maryville College’s newest assistant professor of biology. As an educator of biology, Unger boasts his love for animals, even the scarier kinds, as his favorite animal is the wolf.

“I love their pack mentality, their loyalty,” Unger said. “They’re exquisite hunters, they’re playful and intelligent. I’ve studied so many animals, but I’m just a sucker for big furry animals with fangs.”

A large poster of a ferocious looking wolf welcomes students into his office in Sutton, where they can also expect to be greeted by shelves full of animal skeletons, photos from Unger’s trips to far-off places and Unger himself, likely wearing a Pittsburg Steelers jersey.

Unger comes from Philippi, West Virginia. He attended to Eastern University for undergraduate school, a determined biology major from the start. After graduation, Unger continued to earn his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens and his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. Unger then returned to Philippi as a biology professor at Alderson-Broaddus College.

He laughed about his “full-circle journey.” He said that returning to his hometown, where people remembered him as a 5-year-old, might not have been the best career move. Unger had no difficulties explaining his reasons for coming to MC. He said the college has provided him with opportunities to use his skills, as well as offered him exactly what he wanted in a job.

“First, I was very impressed with the professional nature of my interview here, and the energy of my colleagues,” Unger said. “The campus just oozes academia.”

The location of MC, especially the closeness of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, also grabbed Unger’s attention.

“I felt like this position was screaming for someone who was going to get students outside and into nature,” he said. “I’ve always loved this area, East Tennessee,” Unger said. “The location is just absolutely perfect for students with an interest in ecology and environmental science.”

Unger shared advice for students who may be taking his classes in the future.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to come knock on my door,” he said. “Also, don’t be afraid to use your textbook, you bought it for a reason! Students should be excited that they have this opportunity to learn. This is the one time in your life that school is the only thing to worry about.”

Unger’s teaching style creates a fun, informal atmosphere in the classroom. He brings in real life examples of biology, not only by passing around animal skeletons for students to handle, but also with the presence of class pets that live in his biology lab classroom. He allows his passion for teaching biology to shine, inviting students to interrupt his lectures with questions and making sure to keep the class humorous.

It is not uncommon to see Dr. Unger jump up and down in excitement during a lecture saying, “Isn’t this just the coolest thing?” in reference to the current subject. It is evident that Unger wants his students to be as excited for biology as he is.

“I absolutely love it when my students love to learn,” Unger said.

Even for such a dedicated professor, he says there’s more to life than biology and teaching it. In his free time, Dr. Unger is a runner, a cook and a fan of all things Pittsburg. He also makes time for hiking, camping and scuba diving. Unger is eager to share his knowledge with the students of MC.

“I love what I do,” Unger said. “I’m desperately passionate about teaching, and I love for students to love learning. I wake up everyday thinking that I have the greatest job in the world.”

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