Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Education

PHSC professor Wollam made science a contagious interest

RECOMMENDED READING


The admitting nurse at a Brooksville hospital last month heard that a patient's name was Michael Wollam and recalled that he'd once taken a biology course with a teacher by that name.

"Did you pass?" Wollam's wife, Sheila, asked him.

"I got an A," he said.

"Okay," she responded. "You can work on him."

There was no grading on a curve, no easy A's, in Wollam's science classes at what is now Pasco-Hernando State College.

A passing mark guaranteed that students who went on to careers as nurses, teachers and scientists — and there were thousands of them over the years — knew their stuff.

Wollam, who died late last month at age 72 of a septic infection, was one of the original professors at PHSC's Brooksville campus, starting when it was housed in a storefront on E Jefferson Street.

He stayed there for 32 years, but mere longevity isn't the point here. Long-term excellence is.

"Think of the best teacher you ever had, and that was Mike," said Robert Westrick, a former PHSC provost. "He was the total package."

Community colleges — which is what PHSC mostly is, despite the recent name change — are amazing places if you think about it. They democratize college. They put kids with few prospects into university classrooms and on their way to rewarding jobs.

We always hear cops and soldiers called "heroes," and some of them surely are. But what could be more heroic than regularly pulling off this kind of transformation for more than 30 years?

Not much, which was clear when you went out in public with Wollam, said friend Mary Dowdell, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Nurses and teachers were always coming up to him and thanking him for inspiring them to pursue their careers.

He was a fascinating instructor because he was fascinated by his subject, said Colleen Werner, a former student who is now a biologist with the state Forest Service.

He knew that not everyone in his classes was ready to do college-level work, so he also taught them how to study, she said — telling them, for example, that if they read the assigned material they'd get a lot more out of the lectures.

It helped that these lectures were often funny and always intelligent.

"He was a smart guy. He really was," Werner said.

Fortunately, I don't have to take her word for it. I once followed Wollam on a field trip and listened to him talk authoritatively about every insect and amphibian his students happened to dip out of a pond. I joined him on bird counts and can vouch that he lived up to his reputation as a superior birder. On a hike through a salt marsh, he entertainingly taught my son and me everything we wanted to know — and things we didn't realize we wanted to know — about fiddler crabs and polychete worms.

He was so good, I wondered why he didn't teach at a big-name university. He probably could have, said Sheila Wollam, whom he met when they were both high school students in Fort Lauderdale; he needed only a dissertation to earn a doctorate at USF.

But the couple were happy in Brooksville, where they raised two children and where he found the perfect job.

"I think it's pretty cool that he did teach at the community college and he reached so many people," Dowdell said.

Actually, very cool.

Comments

University of Central Florida suspends sorority for hazing

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A University of Central Florida sorority has been suspended after its members were accused of hazing, underage drinking and providing false information to law enforcement.The university placed Alpha Xi Delta on an interim suspens...
Updated: 5 hours ago
10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

Associated PressThe latest group of U.S. Rhodes scholars includes 10 African-Americans — the most ever in a single Rhodes class — as well as a transgender man and four students from colleges that had never had received the honor before. The Rhodes Tr...
Published: 11/19/17
Pinellas education news: District honors support employees, Discovery Nights resume, and more

Pinellas education news: District honors support employees, Discovery Nights resume, and more

Pinellas names top support employeesFive finalists have emerged from 120 nominees to be the 2017-18 Support Employee of the Year in the Pinellas County school system. The finalists were chosen in five categories. Debra Canning, 21st Century iClass Li...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Class notes

School Calendar• Nov. 27: School resumes after Thanksgiving break• Dec. 22: End of second grading quarter.• Dec. 23-Jan. 7: Winter Break.• Jan. 8: Teacher planning day. No school for students.Arts/Music/TheaterCenter for the Arts at River Ridge Middl...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Makerspace lab exposes Eastside students to tech skills and fun

Makerspace lab exposes Eastside students to tech skills and fun

BROOKSVILLE — The lab at Eastside Elementary School looks high tech, featuring new flooring, cabinets and furniture. Assistant Principal Michael Lastra calls it cutting edge."It’s not like your typical classroom," Lastra said. "The school wanted it t...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Plans to erase the attendance boundaries for Ridgewood High School have grabbed all the attention.But the Pasco County school district also has proposed changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones for consideration this fall.They’re just ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

ST. PETERSBURG — The athletic facilities at St. Petersburg High are just like Bob Carter remembers from 50 years ago.He recalls it all fondly: The concession stands, ticket booths and bathrooms are still the same. The track is still outdated asphalt,...
Published: 11/15/17
In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

TAMPA — Robert Ryan cleaned out his office in May. He knew he was dying.He had kept driving to the University of South Florida even as he lost the use of his left arm. He had kept teaching English, even as tumors ravaged his mouth so that he could ha...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

The kids at Bing Elementary knew something special was about to happen when a six-foot white dog with a "target" over his right eye walked into the classroom.And they were right.On Tuesday (Nov. 14), volunteers and corporate supporters joined the Hil...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

DADE CITY — Dustin Snodgrass has a photograph of himself as a child in the pilot’s seat of a kid-size model airplane. Snodgrass, now 28, recently took a big step toward his goal of flying real aircraft with his first solo flight through a new profess...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17