Ellen Faszewski: Using science to engage with the world

“Aspir(e)ing Profiles” is a series where we feature leaders in education, child and human development and health and wellness connected to the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. Look out for our monthly profile. You might be next!

“I never identify myself as a scientist. It’s the teaching that comes first.” Ellen Faszewski, Chair and Associate Professor of Math and Ellen F Science here at Wheelock is a passionate, fun-loving science geek who could and would love to speak with you about frogs, birds, marine sponges and the Muddy River.

It is clear from Ellen’s enthusiasm and career trajectory that she is whole heartedly committed to sharing knowledge, developing leaders and fostering informed, active citizens. “The first thing I say to my students is ‘if you hate science, I want you to like it a little bit more and understand how it impacts your life when you leave my class.’”

Having grown up in western Massachusetts, Ellen developed an early appreciation for nature and the environment. Romping around in the woods with her two older brothers year round put her face to face with different animals, vegetation and seasons, resulting in an unshakable interest in inquiry. But it wasn’t until a college microbiology course that she realized science was where she wanted to invest her time and energy. She particularly attributes her success in college to a special mentor.

“I had a nun with a research lab for a mentor. That’s how I got into studying frogs. She gave me the opportunity to spend a summer doing research and to publish a paper. That’s what I want to do with my students, especially women and science – give them any opportunity I can to help them succeed.”

This ideology is at the heart of Ellen’s role as a scientist and educator. And being in the classroom means being engaged in the world and understanding how scientific issues, like autism, stem cell research and genetic testing interact with society – in our schools, businesses and government offices. What’s more, Ellen is bringing her students and Wheelock as an institution into these important conversations. When asked the most important lesson she’s learned from driving scientific and environmental impact, she had one word: communication.

Now in its seventh year, the Muddy River Symposium was Ellen’s brainchild. Located adjacent to Wheelock’s Boston campus, the Muddy River carries political, economic, and health implications for the local community. Partnering with the Muddy River Management and Maintenance Oversight Committee (MMOC), the Symposium brings together the numerous stakeholders and Wheelock students to share information and work together to drive towards mutually beneficial solutions. “People won’t understand if you can’t educate and communicate effectively.”

Ellen’s desire to engage in the community is what led to her involvement in the Aspire Institute. Through Aspire, she explains that she’s been able to connect to, impact and learn from Boston’s vast education world.

“Aspire is a great bridge to the community. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet these amazing educators in the local school systems. Working with in-service teachers provides me with a different lens of what my teaching should look like here at Wheelock.”

Who inspires you?

My colleagues inspire me. They are people I look up to because they’ve been doing this work for a long time.

If you could meet anyone (dead or alive) who would it be?

Charles Darwin. I just want to ride around with him in the Beagle and go to the Galapagos Islands.

What’s your motto?

Work hard, play hard.

Ellen Faszewski is a cell and developmental biologist whose primary research interests are amphibian development and sponge immunology. She is a Co-Pi on an NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S-STEM) Colleges of the Fenway STEM Scholars Grant. She was a Co-Pi on a grant received from NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics (NOVA) to aid in the development of Wheelock’s Clear Sky Program, a Science for Teachers Pathway for students who wish to make science a core component of their elementary classrooms. She has also collaborated with the Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) community to aid in the development of the Environmental Forum course. She is currently a Leadership Fellow and member of the SENCER New England Center for Innovation Leadership Council. In addition, as a recent director of the Colleges of the Fenway (COF) Environmental Science Program (now the COF Center for Sustainability and the Environment) and current member of the Steering Committee, she co-organizes annual events including the Muddy River Symposium and Muddy River clean-up.