Marla Garrison, Biology Instructor

Marla Garrison with studentsThere's no other place in the world Marla Garrison would rather be than in the classroom, teaching students the wonders of the natural world. A biology instructor at MCC for 12 years, Garrison makes it a priority to learn the names of all her students.

"I learn their names in the first week of classes so that they know I am keeping track of them and miss them when they are absent. More than anything, it's a personal connection with students."

To motivate students, she brings in stories and case studies so students can apply the information.

"Biology is life, and everything about life fascinates me. Biology integrates into every discipline, so the material I teach always has some sociological application or historical perspective or literary reference or political, ethical or legal implication. These other fields make relevant the topics I need to address in class."

Garrison originally wanted to be a veterinarian. She grew up in a family of harness race drivers going back four generations, including her father, a Chicago attorney, who also trained and bred Standardbreds.  She changed direction while in college, pursuing molecular microbiology. After graduate school she moved to a small town with her husband.  "We lived in a rural area in west central Illinois, where there were no jobs in genetic engineering, so I taught biology and chemistry at the local community college." She has found that teaching others brings her joy.

"I want my students to critically think about biological concepts and to develop the ability to assess credible versus non-credible scientific or health-related information. They need to be savvy consumers and critical professionals."

Garrison said she feels rewarded when her students land jobs in the healthcare field as nurses, physician's assistant, certified nursing assistants, patient care techs, home health care, and medical office staff.  Many of her students go on to nursing school or physician's assistant programs. "It's nice to see where my students end up. It is especially gratifying to walk into a hospital or health care facility and see a former student working there and helping people."

When she's not teaching in the classroom, Garrison works with the McHenry County Conservation District, surveying damselflies and dragonflies in an effort to supplement wetland quality management. She is the author of "Damselflies of Chicagoland, A Photo Field Guide," published online by the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago as part of their Chicago Wilderness Series of Rapid Color Guides.

"Damselflies of Chicagoland" can be accessed on the Field Museum website at:

Garrison teaches anatomy and physiology and microbiology. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry and biology from North Central College and a Master of Arts degree in molecular biology from Illinois State University in Bloomington.

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