For Laura Tibbs Cortes, it started with the barn cats.
Growing up on a corn and soybean farm north of Ames, it was the barn cats that first sparked her interest in genetics.
“I had always liked watching the cats and keeping records on them, but in middle school, I found a textbook about cats in my local library with a chapter on feline genetics,” Tibbs Cortes said. “Now, with the help of that textbook and the records I had made, I could start trying to figure out the genetics of the kittens born on the farm each year, and I just found it so incredibly fascinating.”
Tibbs Cortes, currently a graduate student studying corn breeding at Iowa State University, recently won a Teaching Excellence Award from the agronomy department at ISU. She was nominated by her major professor, Dr. Jianming Yu, based on her work as a Teaching Assistant for AGRON/GEN 320 in Spring 2019 and 2020, where she assisted Dr. Walter Suza.
Tibbs Cortes made her way to graduate school at ISU after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. After being award $500 to fund a research project through Benedictine gave her the opportunity to do research in her freshman year, which is really enjoyed and got her interested in graduate school. Her experience as a T.A. her sophomore year there and a tutor her senior year, giving her valuable experience for her ISU adventure.
“I really enjoyed teaching. I really liked getting to teach about things that I’m really interested in, and hopefully share some of that excitement with the students. In particular, the transition to online learning in Spring 2020 was very challenging, but it was also very rewarding, especially after hearing students’ feedback,” Tibbs Cortes said. “In the final survey, we received many positive comments on our transition to online learning, as students said that they appreciated our dedication during this time and that they were able to learn a lot, despite the difficulties caused by COVID-19.”
In addition to things like holding office hours, Tibbs Cortes prepared material for and led the class in several lectures and recitations for several weeks in both 2019 and 2020, including one activity based on feline genetics.
“I am actually working on creating a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) project based on that [feline genetic lesson],” Tibbs Cortes said. “I’m very honored to receive this award, as I know there are many excellent T.A.’s on campus. I’m happy that my department recognized my efforts in this way. I also hope that this will help to show future employers that I really care about teaching, because I would like to become a professor myself.”