The Professor’s Room: Sheryl Zajdowicz
This biology professor’s passion for all things microbial is downright infectious.
June 26, 2019
In eighth grade, Sheryl Zajdowicz, Ph.D., taught her first science class as part of a school exercise. “After the class, my teacher encouraged me to pursue education, and I said, ‘No way,’” Zajdowicz said. “Famous last words.”
After Zajdowicz taught in grad school and worked in terminal care, a Metropolitan State University of Denver work-study student in her post-doctoral lab persuaded her to give education another go. Zajdowicz joined MSU Denver in 2005 as an affiliate and today is a full professor of biology, specializing in microbiology and infectious disease.
“I realized I loved teaching,” she said. “Encouraging students and helping them find their place is just fantastic, so I try to make my space fun and inviting.”
Her office at 2040 Science is proof of the bonds she forms with students — and proof of her infectious enthusiasm for infectious diseases.
“I was interested in the medical aspects of infectious diseases, but then I started learning more about disease-causing microbes – how they can get around everything we have to protect ourselves and everything we try to do to stop them,” she said. “The power of those microbes is really what drew me to them.”
- The Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood, are my dogs. I adopted them from a former student who runs a rescue. They are extremely tolerable of me dressing them up as infectious agents. The author of the books “A Dog’s Purpose” and “A Dog’s Journey” actually adopted their brother, Tucker, who has made cameos in the movies.
- I get to know my students, and they stop by my office often to chat. I happened to get a color-changing pig for my desk during the holidays. My students thought it was so funny that they got me a little pig collection to match.
- I started taking acoustic-guitar lessons about 2½ years ago. My instructor has us perform at different venues around town, and 11 different members of the Biology Department came to support me and my classmates at our spring showcase. The group in this photo includes some of my research students and other students who came to cheer me on.
- This model is a bacteriophage. Bacteriophages are actually starting to be used as a way to combat antibiotic resistance. Many bacteriophages can cause lysis (cell destruction) of the bacterium. Some can actually cause the bacterium to become more toxic and better able to cause disease.
- I’m a history buff, and I particularly enjoy the propaganda and imagery from World War I and World War II regarding infectious disease. This poster is a Chicago Department of Public Health advertisement. Infectious disease could actually knock down the efforts of the troops, and that’s why they say, “The enemy is syphilis.”
- The microbe cookie cutters on my wall are another gift from a student. I bake for every exam day as a way to reduce students’ test anxiety and give them something to look forward to. The microbes in this case are also bacteriophage, a virus that can infect bacteria and E. coli. I haven’t had the heart to use them, though. They’re just too cute.
- My first plushy was Streptococcus pneumoniae, from students in my first pathogenic-microbiology class at MSU Denver. That started the collection, and since then I’ve received them from students as thank-you gifts for various reasons, including helping them get into a graduate or medical program. Even colleagues have given them to me. I have Ebola, E. coli, syphilis. … They just keep multiplying like they’re supposed to.
- I’m part of a group of faculty, staff and students (the STEAM Team of MSU Denver) that does outreach to get elementary- and middle-school students excited about science and art and how they intertwine. One activity we do is isolate DNA from strawberries. You can do this at home very easily with some rubbing alcohol, coffee filters, shampoo and salt. I always get questions about it because it looks like brain matter.
If your faculty colleagues surround themselves with outrageous objects, alluring artwork or noteworthy knickknacks, please email email@example.com with the subject line “Professor’s Room” to see them featured (or to nominate yourself).
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