Dr. Maureen Kennedy is an assistant professor at UW Tacoma in the division of sciences and mathematics, part of the school of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. She brings a passion for science and math into her classes and strives to help students overcome their fears of mathematical and scientific formulas. She also aims to let students discover their own potential and passions. Between teaching, doing research, being outside and volunteering, she sat down with the Ledger to tell us a little bit more about herself and to give advice for students.
Q: WHERE DID YOU ATTEND COLLEGE AS AN UNDERGRADUATE AND GRADUATE STUDENT?
A: As an undergraduate I got my B.S in biology at the University of San Francisco — in the California bay area. Then I moved up to Seattle to go to UW — University of Washington — for my Masters and Ph.D. in Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management.
Q: HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON YOUR FIELD OF STUDY? WHAT DREW YOU TO THE SUBJECT?
A: I always knew that I loved science. I was always pretty good at math … But I learned in my undergraduate that I was truly horrible in the lab. I would break beakers and test tubes and contaminate my specimens and I was just not a good laboratory person. But I still loved science, still loved knowledge, and learning and trying to understand how the world works so I found this program in UW that combined mathematical skills with trying to gain new scientific knowledge. That just felt like a really good fit for me, and it turns out that it was and has been ever since.
Q: WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO BE A PROFESSOR?
A: In terms of actually being a professor specifically … that was always on my radar for something I wanted to do, but I knew that I could do my work without being a professor. And for eight years after my Ph.D, I was actually working as a research scientist at the University of Washington in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service — the government agency that’s in charge of our national forests and managing the land basically for much of the public land across the United States. Then I saw a job posting here on the Tacoma campus for someone who specialize[d] in quantitative applied environmental science. I read the ad and thought, “Yeah, exactly, that’s me.” I always loved teaching, [and] as a research scientist I didn’t get that much opportunity to teach as I would enjoy. I was always looking for opportunities to pick up a class to teach and so this felt like a perfect fit and so I applied and I got it. For me it was a lesson that when you see opportunities try to take advantage of them.
Q: WHAT CLASSES DO YOU TEACH HERE AT UW TACOMA?
A: I have been teaching mostly statistics and environmental modeling. And that’s mostly with the TMATH designation and environmental science.
Q: WHICH ONES DO YOU MOST ENJOY TEACHING?
I like all of [my classes]. What I really like to do is make some of these quantitative methods accessible to a broad variety of students and really teach them not to be intimidated by this weird, abstract mathematical theory and really just understand how it can be useful. It can be useful in their other classes, it can be useful in their everyday lives. It can’t be useful no matter what your career … I really enjoy helping students sort of overcome those fears when they’re faced with numbers and formulas, and really understand how they actually can work in their favor.
Q: WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A PROFESSOR?
A: Some of the hardest parts about being a professor is for one thing — just on a personal level — balancing that I want to do both research and teaching. And then just finding new and creative ways to really help students realize their own potential. [That is] very challenging and again very rewarding, but it’s a difficult thing to try to do is as a professor for sure. It’s definitely one thing that we all strive to do.
Q: WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS?
A: One of the primary pieces of advice for undergraduate students is to really take ownership over your own education. There’s this phrase “riding shotgun.” You’re not a passenger in the car. You should really take the wheel and drive it yourself. And so what that might mean is questioning your professors when you don’t understand something, raise your hand and talk to them. If you’re scared to raise your hand in class go to your professor’s office hours. Really take charge of your ability to gain the knowledge that’s available here. You can’t really expect to sit passively in a classroom and just feel like … understanding is just going to be absorbed. It’s just something you have to actively pursue and really be in charge of yourself.
Q: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU ARE NOT TEACHING? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES?
A: I do live in Seattle and some of the things I like to do when I have the chance is every day, walk my dog around the neighborhood and around a lot of the parks in Seattle. I [also] love riding my bike around Seattle. There’s so much great stuff to see around the city. When I get the chance on the weekends, we go out and we do some volunteering with ecological restoration. There’s an organization called Mountain to Sound Greenway, and they work all along the I-90 corridor between Seattle and Ellensburg doing restoration events, trail work, free planting, [and] they have a native plant nursery. And so about maybe four times a month, we’re out there doing that. [It’s] just an awesome way to be outside and still feeling like you’re contributing.
- Dr. Kennedy owns a cat and a dog.
- Her favorite tree is a douglas fir.
- She keeps a garden most summers.