Parmelee takes hands-on approach to teaching


by Matt Bower

To say Jeff Parmelee is busy is an understatement.

The associate professor of biology not only teaches courses, but aids students with research projects and conducts his own research outside of his classes.

“I’m pretty much a professor all the time, but it’s an awesome job,” Parmelee said. “I don’t look at it as work, but just getting to do what I enjoy.”

One of Parmelee’s projects is radio-tracking rattlesnakes in Iowa. In conjunction with this, he’s working on a book about the reptiles and amphibians of Iowa. He’s writing it with Jim Christiansen, a professor of biology at Drake University. The two began the book more than a year ago, and according to Parmelee, they still have a year’s work left.

Another project Parmelee is in charge of is an online herpetology atlas.

“I’ve been working with Marvin Van Wyk and a few computer science students in putting together a herpetological atlas of Iowa which will be hosted on the Simpson Web site,” Parmelee said. “We’ve received $6,000 in grant money from the Maytag Corporation to use technology to gather field data and work on the atlas.”

Parmelee also serves as the editor for the Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science.

In addition to all of these projects, Parmelee is also researching the breeding behavior of Sirens, a type of salamander, with biology students.

Combining two important things in his life – teaching and biology – has allowed Parmelee to become one of the most involved professors on campus.

“I love to teach and really like the students,” Parmelee said. “Participating in projects with the students provides me an opportunity to get to know them while also getting to do research at the same time.”

Parmelee is in his seventh year teaching at Simpson and has recently been promoted and granted tenure.

Parmelee is currently teaching three courses: a biology liberal arts seminar, Herpetology, and Principles of Biology, in which he has over 50 students.

He knows all of his students’ names.

“I take pictures of the students and that helps me to learn their names,” Parmelee said.

This spring Parmelee will be teaching Human Anatomy, Comparative Anatomy, which he alternates each spring with Histology, and the senior colloquium, Disease and Culture.

“This will be my first time teaching a senior colloquium,” Parmelee said. “John Pauley approached me and said he taught that and really liked it, so I thought it would be good.”

Parmelee didn’t always know he wanted to teach.

“When I first started going to college, I was planning to go for pre-med, but when it came time to choose a major, I had it narrowed down to computers or biology.” Parmelee said.

An early start with the outdoors can be credited to Parmelee’s love for biology.

“I enjoyed going hunting and fishing with my grandfather growing up and after taking a few field courses in biology, I decided I wanted to study animals,” Parmelee said.

Parmelee said he loves to teach, especially about things he’s interested in and can’t help getting enthusiastic about sharing the material with students.

“He’s very energetic and excited about what he teaches,” sophomore Laura Saar said. “He really cares about whether or not you understand what is going on.”

Saar, a biology major, has only had one class with Parmelee, but she said his Herpetology class has been her favorite biology class so far.

“His excitement about it made it interesting and it rubbed off on me,” Saar said.

Senior Amber Smith, also majoring in biology, has taken the Introduction to Biology Lab with Parmelee. She echoed Saar.

“He really gets into his classes and you can tell he likes what he does and wants to be there,” Smith said. “He makes the little things stand out with his enthusiasm and energy in the class.”