Faculty Focus: Dr. John Wooll
Title: Instructor, College of Science, Engineering and Technology
Years at GCU: 10
- B.S., University of California at Santa Barbara
- Ph.D., University of New Hampshire
What is your most notable accomplishment in your field, and why was it important?
For this I will choose the one that was a long, hard slough. As a post doc, I worked on a protein called Pyruvate Kinase. It is a big protein, and we were studying how the cell regulates the protein’s activity through the binding of two other molecules. My part was trying to crystalize the protein so we could shoot X-rays at it and determine its three-dimensional structure — kind of like how we look at DNA and see that it is a helix.
Pyruvate Kinase has 530 amino acids, and determining its structure requires going one amino acid at a time and adjusting that amino acid to fit the X-ray data. When that is done, we do some additional calculations over and over again until the amino acids do not need additional movements to fit the data. I spent a year doing that. Sometimes I would be in a darkened room with 3-D glasses moving these amino acids into place. It felt like a never-ending video game. That is, until it was done, and then I would ask myself, “Did you do all that?”
What are you most passionate about in your field and why?
When I teach biology and we get to the picture of the parts of the cell, I tell them that this cartoon picture you are building in your head is the beginning. As their level of understanding increases, that cartoon in their head gets bigger and bigger to accommodate all the new business and processes.
At some point, if they stick with it, they can expect that cartoon to get as big as a city block with molecules zipping around and buildings dedicated to important cellular functions. It is beyond fascinating, and my job is to infuse them with that excitement. I leave them with the possibility of having a cell in their mind that is big as a city.
What is a memorable moment you had in class, and what does that reveal about your teaching style?
All students are different, and they exceed and struggle in different places. When I was teaching algebra to grownups returning to college, I saw that this class was potentially a roadblock to moving forward. For many, it was subject they didn’t do well in high school, and now they were asked to pick it up again and succeed this time.
It is with those students that I found where my teaching helped the most was not with the math but with the faith. I instilled in them that they could learn the steps necessary to solve problems they didn’t think they could. I would listen to where they were struggling and help them acquire the skills to address those sticky spots. They saw that they could do what they had failed at previously if someone truly believed in them. I am a biochemist, but it is in teaching algebra that I have found my greatest satisfaction.
What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?
The older I get, the more I enjoy being in nature. Taking a hike while holding my wife’s hand is a good as it gets. Binge watching “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” with my kids is pretty good, too.
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?
I inherited a love of old movies from my mother. I have a seen a great number of the old classics and have a pretty good memory of actors/actress/directors form the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. It’s a love that does not seem to have caught on with the younger generations, so I find that I have to talk to old fogeys if I want to reminisce about a classic.