As a cell and molecular biologist, Rebekah Klingler, PhD, has held many roles and is a prime example of science’s interconnecting and collaborative fields. Klingler’s passion for biology began after she was inspired by her high school science teacher. In college, Klingler immersed herself in research and found herself drawn to molecular biology's multifaceted complexity.
At Alverno, Klingler started teaching anatomy and physiology labs but soon became an assistant biology professor. Now, Klingler is the director of the Alverno Greenhouse, an initiative that began as a collaborative effort between Alverno student and now alum, Kayla Soliday ’19, Thor Stolen, an assistant professor of education at Alverno College, and Jennifer Johanson, the director of the environmental science program at Alverno.
Klingler previously had worked as a postdoctoral research associate and lab manager in a toxicology lab at UW-Milwaukee where she focused on how environmental toxicants like methylmercury and PCBs affect development in zebrafish. Her experiences with fish made her a perfect candidate to manage the aquaponics fueling the Alverno greenhouse.
Why did you pursue a PhD in molecular cell biology?
I went to a small undergraduate school like Alverno (Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.) with small classes and lots of personal attention. At the start of my second year, I asked my new genetics professor if I could work in the lab to gain some experience. It blossomed into a three year long research project that kept me in the lab days, nights, weekends and summers. I loved every minute of it! I loved working with DNA, and I loved working in the lab ― it became my “happy place,” so I stayed in that realm.
What is your favorite thing about teaching at Alverno?
I love working with all the students. I love the flexibility that we have in classes. If somebody is struggling or, on the flipside, is doing fabulously and needs a challenge, I can pivot and give them something different that still accomplishes their goals and meets their needs. I think that is different than other places and I really appreciate that.
How is the greenhouse helping with sustainability and teaching students?
We want to integrate it into the overall Alverno culture and make students more aware of the possibility of fresh food and the social impact of having access to food from a nutrition standpoint, a community development standpoint and a science standpoint. Depending on what a student is interested in, we can tailor the experience. The aquaponics system is a model system for sustainable urban agriculture.
What do you hope students get out of the greenhouse?
Hopefully, it opens their eyes to new experiences and the possibility of different kinds of careers. I hope it helps them find some passion, perhaps in another way than they were thinking. We have so many students focusing on medical professions like nursing. And that’s not a bad thing at all, but there are so many other options. I believe that until you try it, you don't know what you like. So, it’s just another tool for trying new things.