100 Years of Biology at Luther College

"One Hundred Years of Biology at Luther College"

The 41st annual Sherman Hoslett Lecture on October 6, 2012 during homecoming sponsored by the Luther College Department of Biology each Homecoming featured Assistant Professor of Biology, Wendy Stevens, a 1969 Luther graduate.

YouTube Link to this presentation

Wendy (Tessman) Stevens graduated from Luther in 1969 with a major in biology and teaching license in hand. Although her goal was to teach high school biology, she first went to the University of Wisconsin and earned an MS in zoology. In 1971 she wrote to her mentor, Phil Reitan, telling him of her teaching plans, and he wrote back offering her a job overseeing and teaching general biology labs at Luther. Thus began a 42-year tenure as a member of the Luther College biology faculty.

Wendy’s first Luther teaching assignment was to keep the grade book for general biology, prep and teach six of the general biology labs, lecture for one of the biology units, assist in comparative anatomy labs and teach science methods. She was known for wearing a boa constrictor around her neck while lecturing, a technique guaranteed to command student attention. In addition to these courses she has also taught parasitology, physiology labs, nutrition, histology, human anatomy, and human dissection. From 1992-1995 Stevens was the co-director of two Eisenhower education grants to improve science teaching in the elementary grades. Her nutrition students did research at the Winneshiek Medical Center on malnutrition as a co-morbid factor enabling longer hospitalization for elderly patients who required it with corresponding federal financial assistance. She served as a nutrition consultant for the Iowa State Department of Education, Bureau of Nutrition providing hands-on workshops to teach preschool teachers how to present nutritious foods to kids including cooking with 3, 4 and 5-year-old children. 

In 1997, Stevens started the human dissection course at Luther, serving as teacher and director of the dissection lab. To honor Russell Rulon, physiologist, pre-med advisor and mentor, she spearheaded a project to contact all biology and nursing alumni from 1963-2000 raising $1.16 million to establish an endowed chair for the biology department. Stevens also established a successful endowment for the human dissection lab to help cover expenses of that program. Currently she teaches human anatomy, human dissection, histology and nutrition in addition to serving as health science advisor.

Wendy Stevens is married to Jim, who was the biology technician from 1973-1977, when they moved to the country to live in an 1870’s log house that they have rebuilt. They have two sons: Tom, who is a wild-land firefighter for the National Park Service at King’s Canyon National Park, and Mark, who is a chemist for Sigma-Aldrich in Madison and volunteer firefighter. In her free time Wendy is a member of the Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Winneshiek County Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. She also weaves, gardens and enjoys cooking, especially baking.

Lecture note: I had no idea what I was getting into as I began researching the history of biology at Luther College. It’s been a wonderful treasure hunt that I have enjoyed immensely. Most of the material for my lecture has come from three volumes of published Luther College histories, the college catalogs (from 1912 to the present, containing a wealth of information), the school newspaper, Chips (much of the anecdotal information comes from Chips articles), the Alumni Magazine, Agora, and interviews with former Luther biology faculty members: Fred Giere, Bud Bahr, Phil Reitan, Roger Knutson, Dave Roslien and John Tjostem. Thanks to Rachel Vagts and her capable student assistants in the archives and to Robert Fitton who helped with photographs and the visual portion of my presentation. I hope to write a complete history of the biology department in the near future—this presentation is only a very small portion of my research.