A Love of Science Came at an Early Age for Wilkosz
Rich Wilkosz has been fascinated with science since early on in his childhood. “I used to spend a lot of time walking out in the woods when I was younger, observing things,” he says. “It just came naturally.”
But it wasn’t until his junior year as an IT major at UW-Madison that he thought about a career in science. Wilkosz enrolled in a genetics course as an elective. He instantly regained his passion for the wonders of science. “That’s when I realized it was what I wanted to do,” notes Wilkosz. “So I switched everything up at that point.”
Wilkosz graduated with a B.S. in Natural Science and would later get his master’s in Molecular Biology from John’s Hopkins University in Baltimore. He then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Marquette University.
It was during his time at Marquette when he came to the realization that he was meant to be an instructor. “Part of getting a doctorate required me to be a TA,” he explains. “At that point I got hooked on teaching. I had never considered it as a career before that.”
Wilkosz has been a Biomedical Instructor at Northcentral Technical College since 2004. “I’m the team leader for the science department here and also the biological chemical safety person,” he says.
As an instructor, “My focus is primarily on the students,” explains Wilkosz. “I just believe that students have the ability to learn even the most difficult concepts. When they come around and start realizing they can actually do that, that’s the biggest reward… when they start getting that self-confidence.”
He adds, “I try to get them to meet me halfway. I don’t spoon feed them because I think that enables them more to be successful. Not just in my course but in their future programs as well.”
Many of his graduates have gone on to heath care careers, like nursing and dental, medical lab technicians and medical assistants. Others have gone on to four-year institutions, pharmacy schools and med schools.
When comparing today’s students to when he started teaching 14 years ago, he notices a few stark differences. “Today, the level of preparedness that students come in with seems to be less than it was 5-10 years ago,” says Wilkosz. “So there’s a lot of time spent getting students up to speed in things like math and chemistry. Whereas 10 years ago, it seems I had more students that were a little better prepared for those things.”
Having taught Marquette and NTC, he sees another difference in the students that attend each type of college. “At four-year colleges, that’s all they’re doing full-time is being a student,” he says. “At technical colleges, it’s a lot less of that. Even the younger students have very busy work and home schedules.”
Even with busy schedules, he fully supports his students’ pursuit of a degree. “(Technical college) students might have a little bit more to deal with, but that doesn’t mean they should be neglected from having educational opportunities.”
Outside the classroom, Wilkosz still manages to incorporate his science background into the mix. Using his microbiology expertise, he helps out at local brewery with their yeast propagations. Besides that, he likes to play music. Wilkosz plays in a few bands, including a polka band. You can also find him volunteering his time at various places “for people who need a little extra help.”