Capping a lifetime of learning

Posted on: September 26, 2012

After nearly 30 years of encouraging her students’ education, College of the Mainland professor Marilynn Kish-Molina has capped her own by earning a Ph.D. in public health specializing in epidemiology.

“I’m really happy to be finished, but it was with a lot of support from family and COM,” she said.
 
Kish-Molina, who holds a bachelor’s and master’s in biology from Wayne State University, nearly finished a doctorate from University of Texas at Austin in zoology years ago, including fieldwork studying butterfly behavior in the jungles of Costa Rica. To spend more time with her family in Texas, she left the degree nearly completed except for her dissertation and began teaching at COM a couple of years later. When her daughter grew older, Kish-Molina decided to try again.

“It was unfinished business,” she said. To those who thought she was too old to return to school, she responded, “You’re going to get older anyway. You might as well do what you want.”
 
For seven years, Kish-Molina devoted most evenings and weekends to her studies, which included completing a project involving 1,000 COM student volunteers. She collected and cultured nasal swabs from the volunteers and then analyzed them, looking for risk factors and for colonization by an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph called MRSA.
 
While working on her doctorate and teaching, she also served as co-advisor to the student Biology Club, the campus representative for the Texas Community College Teachers Association and the supervisor of the Supplemental Instruction Leader Program, which hires outstanding students to form study groups and tutor other students.
 
“I thrive on that busy schedule. The biggest challenge of working and going to school is finding balance,” she said.
 
Her students have noticed her dedication to her education.
 
“Students tell me they can see education is possible on any level and any age,” she said. “I’ve served as a role model.”
 
Among the classes she teaches at COM are Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Microbiology and Nutrition. She enjoys teaching at a community college because students there are sometimes more at risk than at a university, and she can influence them more than students who may have known success throughout their lives.
 
“I feel like I make more of a difference with students here. Being more nurturing and encouraging makes a difference,” she said. “Former students will email me to tell me how they’re doing. It’s nice to know you made an impact on someone.”
 
She is ready for the next challenge.
 
“I’m a lifelong learner. I’m trying to figure out my next challenge,” she said. “I want to get my pilot’s license. I fell in love with flying when I flew over the jungle in Costa Rica sitting next to the pilot in a small plane. I also want to travel and write a novel, which I plan to do next summer.”


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