Teacher Extraordinaire

Sep 3, 2008

Okay, be honest.

If you were attending class at 7:30 a.m., could you get excited about flies? No? How about the gender differences? Still no?

You would if Mary Frances “Fran” Keller were there teaching you.

You won’t find anyone more enthusiastic about entomology than Fran Keller.

A doctoral candidate in entomology, she recently received an outstanding teaching award at UC Davis.

She's amazing. Take it from pre-med student Shawn Purnell, one of Keller’s students.

“My perception and expectations of teacher assistants were forever raised when I met Fran,” he said.

“Truthfully, the very first time I had lab, I thought Fran was a little crazy. I had never before seen anyone become so enthralled in explaining the differences between male and female flies, especially at 7:30 in the morning. I thought to myself, why would I ever be interested in this and how is this knowledge ever going to benefit me? To my surprise, by the very next lab I found myself blissfully explaining the conditions of Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium to my lab partner. Fran’s passion toward her students and enthusiasm for not only zoology, but also all aspects of academia, created an irresistible learning environment.”

That’s Fran.

If it creeps or crawls or flies or jumps, Fran wants to know about it. She's especially partial to tenebrionids or darkling beetles (see her Web site). She’s also an accomplished artist, illustrator and nature photographer. And a wife and mother of two.

Her four years as the teaching assistant (TA) in an insect physiology class taught by Charles Judson, emeritus professor of entomology and professors Bruce Hammock and Walter Leal, led to the teaching honor. The trio nominated her for the award, which Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef presented to her at a May ceremony on the UC Davis campus.

How does she do it? Excel at teaching? Fran gets to know her students individually and then focuses on their interests. “She showed me countless examples of how the subject (biological sciences) applied to medicine," Shawn Purnell said. "I especially remember her telling a story about how a graduate student willingly ate a tapeworm to further her research, and what the doctors had to do in order to remove it.”

"It's reassuring to know that out of a maze of 30,000 students and faculty at Davis," he said, "that there are people like Fran who really care."

Said Fran: “Not all students learn in the same way. There are global, linear and kinesthetic learners. I believe that illuminating a student’s learning style opens the door for thinking critically.”

"My very best teachers would not accept less than what they knew I was capable of doing. They understood my potential and treated me as an individual in a sea of many.”

Fran, scheduled to receive her doctorate next June, studies with major advisor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chair of the Department of Entomology.

The doctoral candidate is based at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, where she also designs museum posters, such as the Butterflies of Central California, Dragonflies of California, California State Insect (California Dogface Butterfly) and Pacific Invasive Ants. Currently she's coordinating a sale of gift items listed on the Bohart Web site. Proceeds benefit the museum's outreach program.

What’s she been up to lately? I hope you're sitting down!

This fall she will be TA’ing Entomology 100 with her major professor Lynn Kimsey, who describes her as "one of my most gifted students ever."

She's an invited speaker for the first California Desert Research Symposium (CDRS), set Nov. 8 at the University of the Redlands. It's billed as "the first biennial CDRS, contributing to the understanding and conservation of desert wilderness.

Fran is also organizing the Coleoptera symposium at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting set Nov. 16-19 in Reno. She'll deliver a presentation on Stenomorpha.

And for all you dragonfly enthusiasts out there, she's designing a new dragonfly t-shirt for the museum gift shop.

And about those flies she so eagerly discusses at 7:30 in the morning? How much time do you have?


By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

Fran Keller is an enthusiastic entomologist and an outstanding teacher. Plus, she's an accomplished artist, illustrator, and a nature and insect photographer.

Fran Keller

Fran Keller captured this photo of a halictid bee on Borrichia (seaside tansy). It's included in her Bahamas gallery on her Web site at www.tenebrionid.net.

Halictid bee

This is a robber fly with a buprestid beetle on a creosote bush branch in the Algodones Dunes. Fran Keller took this photo and

buprestid beetle

Entomologist Fran Keller (left) and daughter Rachael deVries share a hug on the beach after Fran's recent wedding to entomologist Pat Randolph. Yes, Fran collected insects along the beach. (Photo by Cory Unruh)

Fran Keller and daughter Rachael