Skip to content

Elisabeth Schussler: Botanist, Teacher of Teachers, National Parks Explorer

Elisabeth Schussler exploring the shores of Acadia National Park in Maine.

Elisabeth Schussler exploring the shores of Acadia National Park in Maine.

At UT: Elisabeth Schussler, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been at UT since 2009. She is director of biology teaching and learning, and works with faculty to create instructional practices like group work, clickers, and questions that encourage students to become active learners in the classroom. “It allows them to practice what they’re learning,” she said. “The research shows that when you have students do active learning, it fosters retention and it eliminates a lot of the performance differentials we see between genders and people from different backgrounds.”

Schussler also is passionate about helping graduate teaching assistants become better instructors. She is implementing training that allows them to gain the types of teaching skills that foster inquiry and active learning in labs and discussion classes.

Why she chose this field: Schussler’s mission to help graduate teaching assistants grew out of her experience of being a biology teaching assistant at Louisiana State University. After being on fellowship and then having to teach a class, she felt very unprepared for her classroom role. That experience fueled her desire to ensure others do not have the same experience she did. She is a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant that focuses on how biology programs can better prepare graduate teaching assistants for their teaching roles.

Outside interests: A botanist by training, Schussler describes herself as “a pretty bad gardener.” Nevertheless, she loves planting perennials. “It’s amazing to watch them come back every year,” she said. “It’s a miracle. It says something beautiful about the cyclical nature of life.” Some favorites include coral bells and Lenten roses.

Schussler takes epic road trips because she is not fond of flying. She uses the opportunity to visit national parks and other landmarks. “I have to travel for conferences every summer so I usually try to think of elaborate excuses to drive, and twice I have convinced my best friend from college to road trip to national parks with me,” she said. “One year we drove from Minneapolis to Boise, Idaho, and visited the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, and the Tetons.”

Another road trip took them from Maine to Washington DC, starting at Acadia National Park and then heading down the northeastern coastline—Portland, Plymouth, Salem, Cape Cod, Newport, and Providence.

“My family was always an epic road trip family as well, so I do love to just hop in the car and explore new places,” Schussler said.

If I didn’t do this, I’d: Lead field trips for children at a swamp nature park. It’s a job she’s done previously and enjoyed.

She would also want to go back to work at a public library—a job she held in high school. “I love the beauty and order of libraries. Being around books all day is not a bad thing.”

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.