By Gabrielle Owens
A biology class is likely the last place students expect to see a dancing professor, but not at Youngstown State University.
Gary Walker, professor of biological sciences, has taught at YSU for 26 years and specializes in scientific research, which allows him to offer students deeper insight into the study of biology.
Walker said being a part of his high school theater program gave him skills he incorporates in the classroom to help students be engaged during his lectures.
“Every once in a while I include performance art in my lectures. When I discuss thermal motion of molecules, I do my molecular motions dance,” he said. “So things like that and my research today and the courses that I teach at YSU — all are rooted in my undergrad and graduate educational experiences.”
While attending Jefferson High School, Walker said he loved math, science and pottery. He was also involved in the theater program, which made him want to consider a career in acting.
“I was going to major in theater. My brother was older than me, and he was a double major in engineering and biology. He said, ‘I could see you as a biologist, I think you should try it out.’ I decided when I was a freshman in college to major in biology, and the rest is history,” he said.
Walker said he grew up in Denver and attended the University of Colorado at Boulder to receive his bachelor’s degree in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. For his doctorate in cell biology, he attended Wayne State University.
Walker said he is working on publishing a research article on muscle stem cells.
“These are cells that are capable of cell division, and under certain circumstances, these cells can transform into functional muscle cells,” he said.
Throughout his research as a molecular cell biologist, Walker hopes to create functional muscles through cell culture.
“The stem cells are called C2C12 cells, they are mouse cells and they are well characterized in culture,” he said. “The cells start to divide and proliferate, then they will perform a monolayer of cells and as soon as there is no space between any of the cells, they will stop dividing, which will turn on all electrical programs [and] turn genes on and off. This leads to the development of functional muscle cells.”
Due to COVID-19 protocols, Walker said his research lab ground to a halt, which made it harder for students to conduct research for their curriculum.
“Science is one of the most social activities. It involves people working together in a laboratory, and that is very hard to do in this environment,” he said.
Over Walker’s teaching career, he participated in many presentations around the country and has been a part of published research articles. Also, he recently wrote a book and plans to revise it when he retires.
For students who are interested in becoming a professor or molecular cell biologist, Walker recommends they both learn their field of study as well as acquire various skills outside of science to be successful in their career.
“Learn your field thoroughly and acquire as many skills — not just specifically in your field, but other skills, such as people skills and organizational skills — because those are all the basis of success in any career field,” he said.
- Gary Walker, cell biology professor, 330-941-3600, [email protected]