Faculty Spotlight: Meet Erik McDonald

Erik McDonald shares a peek inside his life along with the plans of the STEM faculty of UW Tacoma in response to COVID-19.

The Ledger had the opportunity to speak with Erik McDonald, a 10 year UW Tacoma associate teaching professor in the division of mathematics and sciences. Besides being a professor, McDonald is a major coordinator for environmental science, faculty advisor and Capstone supervisor. His career path and acquisition of these positions are all a product of submerging himself in what he loved most; fishery biology.

Before he got to where he is today, McDonald received his undergraduate degree in Biology from Central Washington University in 2006. 

“I didn’t have a clear path on what I wanted to do. I only knew that I liked biology,” McDonald says.

Soon thereafter he began working with fisheries and on projects with the Department of Fish and Wildlife along with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 

“Both of these projects were different but interesting. And they got me thinking about going to graduate school,” he said. 

Following these projects, he traveled farther east to attend Central Michigan University in pursuit of his graduate degree in biological sciences. 

“It was a rigorous experience, it was one that ultimately paved the way towards what I wanted to do. I loved fishery biology but I also found out that I really enjoyed teaching,” McDonald says. 

With his graduate degree and teaching assistant certificate, he moved back to teach in Washington state. Where he now provides ample opportunities for students. 

“I love getting students hands on job experience in conservation and research and the networking needed with these jobs,” McDonald says.

McDonald loves helping his students obtain experiences and connections that will assist them in finding jobs later on. Locally, he holds events to help students at middle school and college levels work together to carry out STEM-related work.

Despite the challenges of online learning, McDonald shared his thoughts regarding the changes and difficulties the pandemic has imposed on the biology program, and also addressed the importance of communication with faculty. 

“I’m genuinely interested in the well-being and success of all students at UWT,” McDonald said. 

However, there is no doubt that COVID has placed challenges on not only him, but the rest of the faculty in the STEM department as well. To face these hurdles, they’ve all dedicated a lot of time and effort creating beneficial virtual labs in lieu of in-person ones. 

McDonald attends monthly meetings with the department of environmental science and the topic of Capstones is soon to be up for discussion. 

“I feel very optimistic. Understandably, it is difficult on everybody. But, we will come out of this stronger,” he said.“We are coming up with propositions that are going to help the students; better help them with a career.” 

He has asked students to stay tuned for upcoming words on the subject and hopes to have better virtual opportunities for Capstones in the coming spring and summer quarters.

“Capstones aren’t closed. This is really important to tell environmental science students. There are capstones out there that are available for students. Contact faculty on campus if you have similar interest in their research.”

As words of encouragement, McDonald wants students to know that the faculty understands what they are facing due to the difficulties COVID has caused and are trying their best to support them. He also recommends seeking paid work, internships or volunteering to build a skill-set.

He also recognizes that each student may come from a different place and perspective. To allow himself to be more understanding and helpful to students during the COVID pandemic, he has done more reading, professional development and anti-bias training.

“With COVID-19 and societal issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, it has really inspired me to continue to delve deeper into that subject matter that I’m not well versed in,” he said. “I want to understand the barriers for students, particularly in STEM.”

Fun facts:

Other facts about Professor McDonald are that he has an eleven year old Black Lab Great Dane mix and a one and a half-year old baby. He’s passionate about hiking, snowshoeing, and wildlife photography.

He describes himself as a morning person and an old soul. His mother graduated from UWT with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in 2013. He’s also recently watched the Queen’s Gambit and highly recommends it.