Chris Ecker '08
Major: Liberal Arts and Sciences: Math & Science
Transfer Institution: Ohio State University
Current Position: Pursuing his Ph.D. in microbiology at Ohio State University
Current City: Columbus, OH
Some people get hooked on biology after having an ant farm when they’re little, or because they have a fascination with the outdoors. Chris Ecker got hooked on it only after nearly creating a national incident. Unintentionally, of course.
“My senior year of high school, Mr. Brian Fortney and I attempted to grow microbes from soil,” he explained. “Working out of my mom's kitchen, I prepared bacterial growth media, poured it into ice-cream dishes, and grew microbes from soil in the kitchen window. Though I had no understanding of what I was doing at the time, this small project opened up an entirely new aspect of biology to me. I was fascinated.”
But this eureka moment could have turned out very differently.
“Thinking back, this rudimentary experiment was rather risky, as one natural soil inhabitant is Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax. No outbreaks occurred as a result of this work.”
Catastrophe avoided, Chris found that his fate was sealed. He was going to be a scientist.
When Chris came to Jamestown Community College, it was with the intention of studying microbiology, and only microbiology. Even within the biology field, the subject intrigued him in ways that others did not. Then, his classes started.
“During the initial classes of biology, including biology of insects and mammals, and zoology, I became enthralled with all aspects of biology.”
Chris knew exactly what had changed; his professors made all the difference. In particular, he credits professors Rebecca Nystrom, Jan Bowman, and Taylor Pancoast with widening his view and deepening his interest in all aspects of biology and chemistry.
Spurring this growth was the opportunity to perform actual research right alongside his teachers.
At a time when students at other institutions are still learning theory and getting much of their information from textbooks, Chris was waist-deep in the waters of Chautauqua Lake, taking samples beside Prof. Bowman for a project inventorying and understanding the lake's macroinvertebrate spatial population diversity.
The project was “a far cry from the microbiology objective I began with,” said Chris. Nevertheless, he took full advantage of the opportunity. More than anything else, that project demonstrated for Chris “the importance of passion in teaching and in learning.”
Now a graduate student at Ohio State University and pursuing his doctorate, Chris is still studying freshwater ecosystems, but he's back to working at the micro level. He’s currently researching the genetic regulation of toxin biosynthesis in the cyanobacteria Microcystis aeruginosa, which are responsible for causing harmful algal blooms. Though he's progressed a long way from performing experiments in his mom’s kitchen, in many ways he’s just building on the basics he learned as a student at JCC, collecting samples in Chautauqua Lake, working side-by-side with his professor.
Favorite Class: "Naturally my favorite class was the Tropical Biology Seminar, which culminated in a trip to Costa Rica over spring break. After that it would be hard to say. Every class offered in the biology and chemistry departments has something unique to offer, from organic chemistry, to cell biology and microbiology, to zoology and the biology of insects."
Advice for future biology students: "It’s so important to take advantage of available opportunities. [Prof. Bowman] gave me the opportunity to conduct research on freshwater ecosystems while at JCC, which has led to continued research in the field of freshwater ecosystems today."
Why go to JCC: "JCC prepared me for where I am now by creating a sense of wonder for and fascination with the biological world. Dr. Pancoast in chemistry assured us that no life was possible without chemistry, a lesson often forgotten by frustrated chemistry students. Their passion for teaching and helping students is without a doubt [JCC's] greatest resource. That passion inspired me to pursue opportunities, whether it was macroinvertebrates in Chautauqua Lake or E. coli in the water, that I would otherwise have missed. My goal is to bring their level of passion to the undergraduate students at Ohio State."