Olivet College
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Leah Knapp, DVM, serves as professor of biology at Olivet College, and teaches many biology, medical, ecology and environmental classes. Further, Dr. Knapp serves as a mentor to students, caretaker to the animals who call Mott home and a shining light on campus. She has taught at OC for 28 years and says her role is her dream job, loving nothing more than serving as a mentor to students. Dr. Knapp originally came to Michigan from the east coast to complete her veterinarian studies, and later practiced small animal and exotic pet medicine before she had an opportunity to teach. Since, she realized teaching was her true passion and joined the OC family in 1990, calling it one of the best things to ever happen in her life. Now, Dr. Knapp hopes to help others have a life changing experience as a Comet.

Why do you love working at OC?

It’s fulfilling and gives me purpose. I want to be able to improve the lives of others and improve the state of the planet through teaching, and have fun doing it.

Where does your passion for teaching stem from?

I have been teaching in some way or another since I was a kid – teaching stuff to my peers, teaching the kids I babysat, teaching nature studies and arts and crafts at day camps, teaching riding lessons and high school speech and debate during college, and serving as a teaching assistant in veterinary school. My favorite thing about veterinary practice was client education, explaining what was going on with their pets and why we were treating as we did. I guess I was just meant to be a teacher. I am so addicted to teaching that I stop and explain stuff to strangers when the appropriate moment arises. Fortunately, they are usually pretty pleased. It’s surprising how often those opportunities come up.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Rather eclectic, with predominantly interactive lecture, experiential learning, storytelling and stand-up comic routine. I focus very much on applied learning and concepts, like teaching information in the context of everyday life and future careers, with lots of applications to the real world. It’s not about memorization; it’s about understanding and being able to use what is learned. As a teacher, I pull inspiration from my own time as a student, and try to incorporate what I liked most and what helped me learn best, and avoiding the things that impeded my learning and enjoyment of a class.

What is the average day in your job, or some of the unique things you are responsible for?

Aside from teaching and advising, I also care for our teaching animals, advise Earthbound, OC’s environmental awareness organization, oversee the Mawby Native Plant Garden and North Mott Garden on campus, organize prescribed burns of our prairie at OC’s Kirkelldel Biological Preserve, and see lots of prospective students. I also open my office as a student hangout and work area, and especially enjoy just talking with students. Topics range from careers and internships to science, politics, and even mutants and zombies. I never know where my conversations will go, but I love every chance to connect with a student!

Why do you encourage students to attend OC?

Olivet College is a place where you will get a unique and invaluable education, paired with guidance for your future. It is a place where people really care about you and where you matter as a person.

What do you look forward to in your role?

I’m very excited about taking my ornithology class to the Kino Bay Center in Mexico next fall. I also love teaching Intensive Learning Term (ILT) classes – ecosystem ecology was this year. We have a blast and go on field trips to interesting places, even the dunes and the zoo! I just enjoy going to work every day, even though getting up in the morning is tough when I don’t get enough sleep. Once I’m up and going, I always look forward to work, especially teaching.

Commencement is a bittersweet day, but I still look forward to it. I am always so proud of our graduates, but saying goodbye is never easy!

What is the number one piece of advice you share with students?

For my students going into medical fields, I tell them that it isn’t just a matter of taking the classes that get them into the school; it’s also what gets them through it. I tell students they need to pursue the career that feels like the best fit, and to not be afraid to change if the opportunity or desire arises. If they worry about what their parents or others will think of their career choices, I ask, “Who has to live with you for the rest of your life?” You do! In general, I remind them that all college graduates have a college degree, and what will set them apart is what else they have that will help them get the internship, the job, or the spot in graduate or professional school. And then, I help guide them through these things.

What is an interesting or little known fact about yourself?

I used to show and train horses. I can also train dogs and help owners fix behavior problems. I enjoy interior decorating, native plant gardening and DIY projects. I love spiders – they are so cool!

Learn more about Olivet College’s natural and physical science programs, or visit campus to connect with awesome professors, like Dr. Knapp. Contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu for questions.

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