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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
As a part of his community service hours, new University of Alaska Southeast Assistant Professor Matthew Pawlus, Ph.D., hopes to organize community nature hikes that are open to the public. With children of his own, the new assistant professor of science at the UAS Ketchikan campus especially enjoys working with younger groups, and plans to implement nature hikes and beach walks through tidal pools. Adults are welcome as well, as he hopes to start a trail building group.
Nothing official is planned quite yet for those hikes, as Pawlus is warming up to the campus and has just begun teaching his first semester at UAS.
Before receiving the position in Ketchikan, Pawlus had lived around the country. After being born in Ohio, his family moved to Wasilla when he was 8 years old and was there until he finished high school.
His next move was to Grand Junction, Colorado, where he attended Mesa State College — a small school in the desert surrounded by a mountain biking and whitewater rafting community. While there, he met his wife, who was in school for nursing.
Pawlus relocated to Denver to attend grad school at the University of Colorado, where he received his doctorate in molecular biology. His main focus was on breast and kidney cancer, and ho w low oxygen levels, or hypoxia, drives cancer growth.
“After that, I got a postdoc position in Seattle at the University of Washington,” Pawlus said. “I worked at an institute called ISCRM, the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine. Like the name suggests, it’s all about regenerative medicine — growing back body parts, repairing tissue after it’s been damaged.
“I did a bunch of work with stem cells there and a little bit of work with zebrafish, which are regenerative animals,” he continued. “They’re pretty cool, you can cut them in half, cut off tissue, you can amputate 20 percent of their heart and they’ll grow back.”
Pawlus focused on modeling traumatic brain injuries in the fish, where he’d poke them in the nostril with a small needle and make a hole in their brain. The wound would heal in a few weeks, and he would watch how that process evolved, and see if he could adapt it to humans.
While in Seattle, he began teaching a summer class at the University of Washington with other postdoc students about wound healing, and moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he was teaching science classes.
Pawlus then relocated to Spearfish, South Dakota, where he was teaching biology, and finally ended up in Ketchikan. He said his main goal at UAS is to engage and interest his students, especially since most of his classes are introductory courses.
“It’s always good when people are having fun and paying attention, that’s really the goal,” Pawlus said. “I like to integrate a lot of activities whenever we can. If people are enjoying themselves and doing something, hopefully they’ll remember what they learned.”
He will be teaching general chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and an online geology class focusing on the evolution of life and fossils.
By implementing lab activities and fun chemical reactions, he hopes his students are able to take a liking to the subject.
“I expect a lot out of them but I can remember what’s it like to be in college. I’m not going to bore them to death with lectures,” he noted. “I hate standing up there for long periods of time. Hopefully with these activities and interesting visuals, they can actually stay interested and maybe even be entertained a little bit.”