Dr. Jerilyn Swann: woman behind lab coat

Every Maryville College student has to take a science course. For non-majors, this requirement is fulfilled through SCI 150 and SCI 350.

Ready and excited to teach all students, Dr. Jerilyn Swann here takes the stage.

Swann is known by students to be helpful, cheerful and genuinely excited about teaching science. Her favorite part about teaching at MC, she says, is the students. Swann appreciates that MC students are excited about learning and not afraid of hard work.

“They are just genuinely nice, across the board,” Swann said.

Swann came to MC as a cell biologist shortly before her husband, Dr. Bill Swann, also obtained a position at the college. The two married when Swann was at the end of her master’s degree program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“We never envisioned in a million years that we would be in the same place,” said Swann, who also related that the couple had planned on commuting to different colleges.

Before she came to MC, Swann was a young woman growing up in East Tennessee. Rather than go off to school in another state, Swann chose to complete all three of her degrees at UTK. Swann actually recommends that students who know what they want to do go to different schools to get different experiences.

So then, why did she not go to different schools instead of staying at one?

“I quite honestly did not have much of an imagination or very good guidance counselors,” Swann said with a laugh.

UT was close to home, and Swann had used the UT library when she was in high school, which made the school an easy choice.

As an undergraduate student, Swann looked only at the UT College of Arts and Sciences, which gave her a liberal-arts education. Looking back, Swann says that her choice to obtain a liberal-arts education was the best choice she made as an undergraduate.

At the beginning of her undergraduate career, Swann chose to major in chemistry. After a semester as chemistry major, Swann switched to zoology and now has all three of her degrees in this field.

However, her path was not always so clean cut.

“When I started out in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Swann said.

She plodded through her education, always searching for what she would do. Swann did a couple of independent studies while completing her education, and after she got her Bachelor of Science, she became a graduate teaching assistant.

As a teaching assistant, Swann covered a lab session. She would walk the undergraduates through the lab work until deciding to attend some of the professor’s lectures out of interest.

She found through her attendance that the lecture sessions were horrible.

Swann decided at that point that she would start helping her lab students out with the material by giving supplemental instruction during lab sessions, and it was then she decided that she wanted to teach.

At MC she presents science to both majors and non-majors in ways that will help students succeed. Swann believes that even non-majors should have a basic understanding of science to help them in the real world.

“It is very easy to be duped if you don’t understand,” said Swann, who champions the benefits to society of having scientifically literate students, regardless of their fields of study.

When Swann is not conducting experiments, giving lectures or grading assignments, she is a mother of three. Swann says she loves to play with her kids, Josie, 9, and twins Mitch and Samantha, 7. For Swann, going home to her three children is a nice clean break from MC.

Swann also enjoys cooking and trying to keep her houseplants in the land of the living. She has gotten into walking lately and walks a little daily. At the end of the night, Swann winds down by playing games on her iPad such as the beloved Angry Birds, Flight Control, Plants vs Zombies and Peggle.

“I paid five bucks for Peggle,” said Swann, “and it was worth every penny!”

Finally, Swann plays Sudoku until she is ready to sleep, wake up, and become our professor once more.

Looking at her life and considering her students, Swann maintains that hard work does pay off. She doesn’t believe in giving up or settling for an easy break.

“It may seem unbearable at the moment,” Swann said, “but it gets better.”

Swann holds onto this attitude not only for herself but also as advice to MC students.

It will get better.

In the end all the academic toil students are experiencing is a means to an end, and professors like Swann make attaining that end all the more possible.

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