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Sunspots - Tracy Anderson

I took the required biology class while in high school. My only faint memory is of pinning down a slimy frog to a hard surface so we could dissect it. Thankfully I had a lab partner who had more courage than I did, or who perhaps harbored some sort of Muppet-related reprisal instinct. In any case, I don't remember fainting.

I wish I had taken biology from Tracy Anderson. I think she would have added that missing dimension to the course, captured my interest and, ultimately, made biology more challenging.

"I was interested in everything in high school," said Anderson, who has been teaching at the University of Minnesota, Morris for 15 years. "But I couldn't imagine not having biology. Once in college I knew I was on the right path."

Born in Bemidji in 1964, Anderson was raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and graduated from Northern University High School there. Now retired, her father Floyd worked for Lutheran Brotherhood; mother Judy was a homemaker and is now a wood carver. Younger brother Wade and his family still live in Cedar Falls.

Anderson holds a bachelor's degree in biology with a geology minor from Gustavus Adolphus College. She received her master's degree in biology from the University of Kansas and holds a doctoral degree in entomology ("the scientific study of insects") from Oregon State University.

A typical day for Anderson begins with morning office hours during which she encourages students to stop by whenever they have questions about class material or assignments or about their progress toward graduation.

"A huge portion of incoming students at UMM think they are biology majors. Some may have expectations from what they've seen in television programs such as 'House' or 'Grey's Anatomy.' I help them find out what they're really interested in," she said.

Anderson also helps students to determine the courses they need to complete their major and assists them with annual planning. For example, "math is a must for a biology major. Are they interested in pre-med? Do they want to study abroad?

"This semester I lecture and have four three-hour lab sessions each week covering two courses--the Evolution of Biodiversity and Introduction to Invertebrate Paleontology," she said. In other semesters Anderson also teaches Freshwater Biology or Entomology.

"I continue to learn even as I prepare to teach classes each day," said Anderson.

"Morris has special students," said Anderson, who herself "has been to school a lot" and "had good teachers and mentors. Students at UMM are bright, hard-working and fun to be around. I enjoy watching them develop over four years here."

In helping students to weigh issues, Anderson's advice is this: "It's a process: before they go to sleep at night they probably know what the answer is. They just have to come to grips with the decision."

In addition to teaching and learning, Anderson partners with one or more students annually to do research. Currently they're studying invertebrates that live in the bottom of Cottonwood and Page Lakes.

"We're looking at food resources in lakes and the role that aquatic plants play," said Anderson. She has presented the results of her research at national meetings, and has students present their results during the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium held on campus in April.

Although she's engaged in large part on the campus, Anderson's life goes beyond the corner of Fourth Street and College Avenue. Her involvement in the greater Morris community and the area is diverse. "It's my community, so it's nice to have ownership," she said.

Anderson is one of about a dozen people asked to serve on the Stevens County Sheriff's Posse. The Posse is comprised of both men and women, young and old, from urban and rural settings who "are there to help people do what they should do. We are a presence in a brown uniform at parades, street dances and the Stevens County Fair."

She is an instructor for the hunter and firearm safety class sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources, during which students can earn hunter safety certificates. She has played on local women's softball teams and has been on the board of the Stevens County Humane Society for almost 10 years.

"We help about 150-200 animals in a year, more cats than dogs," said Anderson of the Humane Society. "It's rewarding to place an animal in a great home." Anderson shares her own home with a Humane Society find--six-year-old pug rat terrier mix Duke--and two cats, Louie and Simon.

Since she's a biologist, it seems natural that Anderson also enjoys both winter and summer fishing. She sets up a portable fish house--at an undisclosed location--to catch pan fish and walleye. She's also dabbled in pheasant hunting, although she shared with a smile, "I'm not much of a threat to wildlife."

Thus, Anderson is content to call Morris her home. "I'm doing what I like to do, and it seems to be going well."