Tamara Pandolfo started teaching courses in NC State’s Environmental Assessment Program in 2015. She currently teaches online courses in Environmental Stressors and Water Quality.
Before coming to NC State, Pandolfo earned her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies at UNC-Asheville. During her undergraduate studies, she worked as a lab technician at a nonprofit lab that conducted water quality analysis. Upon graduating from UNC-Asheville, Pandolfo worked for the same lab as an analytical chemist.
“This work solidified my interest in anthropogenic (human-caused) impacts on the environment,” Pandolfo explained. She then pursued her master’s degree in toxicology at NC State.
“It was during my master’s research that I was introduced to freshwater mussels, and I’ve been hooked ever since. My work focused on determining the thermal tolerances of freshwater mussels and examining potential interactions between thermal and toxic stress,” Pandolfo said.
She adds that freshwater mussels are an important component of freshwater ecosystems because they filter large amounts of water, contribute to nutrient cycling, influence assemblages of other organisms and act as ecosystem engineers.
Pandolfo’s interest and research with freshwater mussels continued while earning her doctorate degree in zoology at NC State.
Pandolfo says she loves teaching courses in environmental assessment because there’s never a shortage of new topics that are relevant to the lives of her students.
“I really enjoy teaching online courses. At first, I was surprised by how dynamic the courses can be, but I’ve learned that there does not have to be such a dichotomy between online courses and traditional in-person classes,” Pandolfo said. “I’m always looking for new ways to build a sense of community, encourage interaction and keep students engaged.”
Pandolfo has been able to recreate some of the same experiences that her on-campus students enjoy.
“I like to include live sessions where students can interact with fellow students and me in real time. I also strive to keep up a steady flow of communication with my students via email and course announcements,” Pandolfo said about some of her online teaching methods.
Having steady two-way communication will help students in Pandolfo’s online courses build a working relationship with her.
“I would advise all of my students to feel free to contact me throughout the semester. I am here to support you, and I want you to succeed,” she explained. She may even provide you with a little science humor.
“My students will eventually discover that I have a fondness for bad science jokes,” Pandolfo said.
Although she may share a few jokes, one thing she’s serious about is time management. Pandolfo says some Online and Distance Education students may have trouble keeping up with assignments because they’re not used to the self-reliance.
“At the beginning of the semester, go through your syllabus and add important dates to your calendar or planner,” Pandolfo advises.
But regardless of her class format, Pandolfo says her students bring their own background and experiences to her courses.
“In an online course, these differences can really enhance class discussions,” Pandolfo said. She adds that the asynchronous format of discussion forums enables her students to take their time expressing their thoughts on certain class topics.
“You get to hear from all the students—not just the ones who usually speak up in class,” Pandolfo explained.
Pandolfo hopes to help students with some of their own research and projects.
“My background has given me a wide-range of experiences within the fields of aquatic toxicology, stream ecology and conservation biology. I’m eager to become involved as an advisor for student projects that touch on these or related topics,” Pandolfo said.