Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Rachel Donham
Mendocino College (MC) biology professor, Rachel Donham, grew up on a goat ranch in rural Anderson, CA. The first person in her family to graduate from college, she earned an Associate of Arts degree at Shasta College, then went on to earn both a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental toxicology and a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from U.C. Davis (UCD).
Now in her fifth year at MC, Donham says she first heard about our local college from students in her classes at UCD, when she was teaching as a post-doctoral researcher. "My classes were small and intense," she says, "and I got to know my students well; these two were always reminiscing about their wonderful experiences at MC." When a position at MC became available, she applied, and was delighted to be selected.
Donham's students are mostly pre-nursing students and biology majors. She notes that there are many more biology majors at MC than when she arrived five years ago. She believes this is because many more transfer students are attending MC, at least partly due to the economy.
Donham explains that although her parents were not able to advise her about furthering her education after high school, she had excellent teachers in both elementary and high school who encouraged her. She also credits 4H for giving her valuable experience in doing public demonstrations and interacting with people. She says her "wonderful" biology teachers at Shasta College motivated her to consider teaching biology at the college level.
Besides teaching as a post doctoral researcher, Donham taught biology classes part-time at both UCD and Consumnes River College before coming to MC. She held various jobs during college, including retail sales, restaurant management, and deli food preparation.
Donham says the best part of her current position is the daily interaction with students, and seeing them really "get" the information. The most challenging part of her job is making sure everyone in her classes of diverse students does get the information. She loves to see students become excited about biology, and begin to form their own opinions on key issues.
Described by her students as "friendly" and "organized," Donham admits she changed majors "five or six times" as an undergraduate. She says she always knew she wanted to be in some field of biology, but it was not until she took a class in environmental toxicology that she was "hooked."
Her two favorite classes to teach are microbiology and environmental toxicology. She enjoys microbiology because it integrates the information from all other MC biology classes, and the students are highly motivated, as it is the last class many take before entering the nursing program. She enjoys environmental toxicology because she likes introducing students to the surprising multitude of chemicals in the environment and their role in human health.
Donham advises anyone who would like to teach college biology to be sure they are passionate about the subject, then to get as much teaching experience as they possibly can. In addition, she suggests taking additional courses beyond the degree to develop the breadth needed to teach.
Donham is proud to be one of the three organizers of the popular Earth Day event held at MC each Spring, along with her husband, Chris Ineich, who teaches at MC part-time, and earth science professor, Steve Cardimona.
Donham says most people are surprised to learn that she and her husband raise pet "house rabbits." They have a young daughter, Annabelle, who is the light of their lives.