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Photo by: Juana Martinez
Nicholls professor discusses her journey becoming a biologist
March 9, 2017
Aimee Hollander, visiting instructor of biological sciences, distinctively remembers the moment she realized she wanted to be a biologist.
“I was in Mrs. Miller’s fifth grade class,” Hollander said. “She told us all to go collect pond and creek water from the area. I went out and collected pond water and looked at the water under a microscope. I could not believe what I saw. There was this whole other world living in these tiny droplets of water.”
Although her plan as a child was to become a high school biology teacher, becoming a biology professor wasn’t too far off.
“I wanted to be a high school biology teacher growing up, but I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” Hollander said. “There still may be a career change at some point in my life. Not now though, I’m really happy with Nicholls, but some say maybe.”
She revealed that as a student, although she’s always enjoyed biology, it wasn’t necessarily an easy subject for her.
“I was not the best student,” Hollander said. “I worked really hard and my grades would reflect that. I feel like students should know that it’s okay to get a 3.0 and not a 4.0.
Hollander graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with her Bachelors in Biology. Upon graduating, she worked for a government contractor for a year. She realized her job didn’t make her happy so she began looking at graduate programs.
“I realized that with a bachelor’s degree, although the work was interesting, my passion was still in the health sciences,” Hollander said. “At the time, there was a lot of funding for women in science so I ended up getting a fellowship that would pay for an entire PhD.”
Growing up, Hollander received her inspiration from her mother and appreciates all that her mother has done for her.
“My mom is a very strong woman,” Hollander said. “I remember her working so hard so she was sure that I could have the same opportunities she wishes she could’ve had. She, like many students at Nicholls, had to work and get her degree in piecemeal.”
The Virginia native believes her upbringing has molded her into the person she is today. She wants to empower others involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math subjects.
“[My mother] was the woman in my life that would tell me that it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you can do anything,” Hollander said. “I feel like I can empower women and minorities to do the same thing, particularly in STEM.”
Hollander’s husband is in the military so Hollander and her husband constantly move around the country. Although this has made it difficult for Hollander to settle and establish long-term projects, it has changed her work and living habits.
“This obstacle has made me an incredibly efficient faculty member and scientist,” Hollander said. “I’m here for a good number of years which I’m beyond excited about because I can get a lot done but I know that as soon as my feet hit the ground at an institution, I only have so much time to get things done. Moving around has definitely taught me to value the smaller things in life.”
Since Hollander started working at Nicholls two years ago, she’s applied for an E-Learning grant and brought the PEAR Project and Coastal Connections to Nicholls.
The E-Learning grant will support a new science communications course that will be offered online. The PEAR Project is a project where students learn how to sample soil and look for antibiotic resistant genes. The data collected from soil around campus is compared to the soil samples from the rest of Louisiana. Coastal Connections is a competition sponsored by the Louisiana Sea Grant where undergraduate and graduate students compete to communicate science to the public in three minutes or less.
Hollander, along with Sara Shields, instructor at Nicholls, and Kellyn LaCour-Conant, Nicholls graduate student, are starting an American Association of University Women, AAUW, chapter on Nicholls campus. Hollander will be the faculty advisor for the new chapter.
“AAUW is basically a chapter that will empower women in STEM to kind of explore various career paths, get mentoring and learn how to negotiate salaries,” Hollander said. “We’re going to have an interest meeting some time in the spring and we’re going to launch the chapter in the fall.”
Hollander urges for students to get involved on-campus because Nicholls is home to Greek life and various clubs and organizations. She wants students to get the most out of their education and campus life.
“My advice to students at Nicholls State University is to take advantage of every opportunity that they have, not only in the classroom but also with extracurricular activities,” Hollander said. “We have wonderful clubs, Greek life and volunteer and religious organizations. Students have this really great campus community. I would hope that students learn to make some lifelong friends while they’re on campus instead of just coming for a degree.”