Alum now teaches in the lab where she first fell in love with science
Heather Brasher once preferred harmonies and melodies to beakers and test tubes. After she discovered her passion in a College of the Mainland biology class, the music student changed her major to science.
Now as a professor at COM, she encourages academic excellence in her biology students and in her national community college honor society students.
For her excellence as a co-advisor of Phi Theta Kappa, the COM biology professor was recently inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa District IV Hall of Honor. Faculty nominated Brasher, a former Phi Theta Kappa member herself, for the award.
“I love Phi Theta Kappa because it pushes students into academic research skills and also leadership,” Brasher said.
Like many of her students, Brasher, of Texas City, began her academic transformation in a COM class. Gliding through high school, Brasher planned to major in her passion – music.
A College of the Mainland chemistry class and a trip on “vomit comet” changed her mind.
“(Chemistry professor) Dr. Greg Johnson taught me how to study. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have changed my major,” said Brasher. “He’s an amazing teacher, and he’s funny and one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.”
After Johnson’s chemistry class sparked her interest, Brasher applied and became one of four COM students paired with a NASA researcher. She helped conduct experiments to see how astronauts could take nasal medications in space on NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft.
“I was one of the students that rode on it,” she remembered. “We did experiments with nose sprays and eye drops. We were looking at fluid dynamics.”
During the class and program at NASA, Johnson noticed the qualities that would help her thrive as an educator.
“That determination was easy to see,” said Johnson. “I could tell during that experience that she was going to excel in academics, her ability to problem solve, her commitment to that project, and to sacrifice. I saw in her that drive to succeed and she was willing to sacrifice. She brings that same energy, determination and excellence that she had as a student.”
After that hands-on experience and a solid academic foundation at COM, she further delved into science at the University of Houston, earning a bachelor’s degree. She later became one of the first accepted to the University of Houston Chemical-Biology Doctoral Program on a fellowship.
She occasionally popped in to see Johnson, who had many of her same professors at UH, and compared notes. When she graduated, he informed her that COM had an opening. She became a full-time COM professor in 2012.
Now working in the science department at COM with Johnson, Brasher incorporates the lessons he taught her in her classroom now.
“I’m a big proponent for helping students to engage themselves. You make them take control of their education, but you give them the tools to do that,” she explained. “I ask important questions to get them to think. That’s what professor Johnson did for me.”
Brasher enjoys working in the labs where she first fell in love with science alongside her former inspiration.
“Every time I see him, I tell him that if not for him I wouldn’t have succeeded,” she said. “That’s what’s amazing at this school, is they have really amazing faculty who can change your life.”