Meet Our Faculty – Dr. Rachel Pritchard

Assistant Professor of Biology

Ph.D., Miami University, Microbiology
B.A., Ohio Wesleyan University, Microbiology and Zoology

“I know teaching is what I am supposed to do, and I enjoy helping students find their passions and their paths. I’ve been here since 2014 – long enough to see my students graduate. That’s very rewarding.”

Students are gaining hands-on research experience in Medical Microbiology and General Biology II courses this semester, led by Dr. Pritchard and Professor Kevin Horn. Their students, in partnership with students from more than 200 participating schools across 44 states, Puerto Rico and 14 countries, are joining the crowdsourcing effort established by the University of Wisconsin-based Tiny Earth network to address the world wide health crisis of antibiotic-resistant infections. Learn more about the Tiny Earth project here.

Why did you become a teacher?
“I wanted to teach from a young age. My mother was an elementary teacher (English and reading), and her love for the classroom and her students influenced me. Although I thought about other careers, I was always interested in science, and came full circle back to a decision to teach after teaching opportunities in graduate school.

“I love the environment at Wesleyan. I can give my students personalized attention like I got at Ohio Wesleyan. I want to make an impact on my students, and I want to get to know them and help them. I couldn’t do that in a large university. I feel very fortunate that I found Kentucky Wesleyan.”

You mentioned your mother. Who else influenced you as you prepared for your career?
“My undergraduate advisor was a great and inspiring example. She modeled how to be a good teacher and mentor, and she gave me excellent support and guidance. She used active learning exercises in the classroom and used new techniques, so she made the classroom interesting and invigorating. I saw that she was a good person who had good relationships with her students and co-workers. She sent the message that everyone on the team was important. I learned so much about the balance of faith and science from her. Our interactions were very valuable to me.”

What are some successes and rewards you have experienced during your time at Wesleyan?
“I love the close-knit community here at the College, and I enjoy working with other faculty. We have a thriving research culture here, and our students are presenting their work at national and state meetings.

“Several years ago, I had a non-traditional student who came here from a community college. I helped her get involved in research and helped her get into a graduate program.

“Another student worked with me on research in the lab and through that experience, he decided to pursue a master of public health in epidemiology.

“Another graduate left for a graduate program in microbiology after doing research here for two and a half years. “These are just a few examples of the rewards of teaching. I’m very proud of my students and their diligence in studying and doing research.”

In attention to the Tiny Earth research, what are other research projects your students are participating in?
“I have a research lab that is continuing the work I started in graduate school with Mycoplasma iowae. M. iowae is a bacterium that causes a variety of disease symptoms in chickens and turkeys including embryo deformities and inability to hatch from the egg, as well as joint and leg issues in adults. My research focuses on better understanding of how M. iowae causes these disease symptoms. Some past projects have involved examining hydrogen peroxide production, a chemical that other Mycoplasma species can make that is used to cause disease, as well as catalase activity, a protein that breaks down hydrogen peroxide. The only Mycoplasma species to date that has catalase is M. iowae, which is very unique and interesting, so we are also further studying this protein. My research projects more recently have focused on how M. iowae behaves under different growth conditions to determine if this could explain the different types of disease at different body sites. We are currently examining different temperatures and nutrient compositions and measuring the effect on bacterial growth and the ability of M. iowae to cause disease using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system in the lab.

“I have also been able to work with lots of other independent projects involving microbiology with students over the years. These include an analysis of the water quality at two different lakes in John James Audubon State Park, two different cosmetics projects examining the antibacterial properties of vegan and organic cosmetics, and the analysis of bacteria found during distillery fermentation.

“I have also started incorporating lots of research projects into the lab courses I teach. In Microbiology I, students spend half a semester completing the Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance in the Environment (PARE) Project. Students choose soil samples that they analyze for the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Students share their data with other researchers doing the project across the nation and make posters to display their data, some of which are displayed at Scholar’s Day in April.”

How do you spend your time away from campus?
“I love spending time with my husband, Robert (IT deskside support professional), and two daughters, Lucy (3) and Charlotte (2). We love Owensboro. It’s a great place to raise our family. We enjoy family adventures in the area, and we are involved in our church, Wesleyan Heights United Methodist.”