Evolution, Adaptability and Making an Impact on Others

My brother is the author of a research paper on fish evolution soon to be published in a respected scientific journal. I am proud of his work. Understanding biological changes over time is so important to the study and preservation of our ecosystem.

This accomplishment also prompted me to think about how humans adapt and how being adaptable is key to our lives.

Bob has been a professor of biology at Bradley University in Illinois for more than 40 years. He has taught a multitude of students, and encouraged them to love science and excel. On visits to see him, he enjoyed showing me the cats he was dissecting, as well as the room where he kept the human cadavers. I was intrigued, but not eager to see much.

He is 22 years older than I am. When he was a child growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, his father died tragically. Our Mother went back to college and became a teacher. She remarried and had me and my other brother, Tommy.

Bob is an example of the success of intellect, persistence and hard work. Mom liked to tell Tommy and me how hard he worked and how helpful he was (I expect she wanted us to emulate that). In high school, his math teacher, Mr. Tinkle, met him at 7 a.m. each day to help him with problems. Soon, Bob was tutoring others. He became an Eagle Scout, as well.

Growing up without a Dad, and without many resources, wasn’t easy. But he did have a devoted and determined Mother, and he had others, including teachers, who cared. During much of my childhood he was in graduate school. Some wondered if he was ever going to get out – that amount of school was kind of unusual in our family. I remember he stored his jars of fish specimens for research in our kitchen cabinets. He always had a big smile (still does) and did a lot for us. He now makes sure his grandson gets all of his homework done.

His research is about “a recently extinct fish and its evolutionary relatives using information from anatomy combined with information from DNA molecules.” I have to use his words verbatim because I don’t think I can even summarize that. He added that he used a software program to analyze all 1,314 parts of the DNA molecule used in the analysis.

He said, “Maybe we will be able to learn new things about a small area of evolution we didn’t know we could.” That’s what kids learn by studying science and evolution. We can’t close off the potential that discoveries in small areas of research can continue to improve our planet and our lives.

It seems kind of a stretch to connect the study of an extinct fish to human adaptability and to making an impact in your world. But, there were a lot of lessons in this email from my brother to me.

I thought about how much deeper the issue of evolutionary science is than the religious discussions that are often raised. It also made sense that humans “evolve” not only over millions of years, but in one life, to fit their surroundings and find their place. It takes some support, and we have to be there to help those with overwhelming difficulties.

Everyone has a gift. Bob has gifts that he worked to develop, and he is making a big impact with his research. Further, how he is conducting his life definitely made an impact on me, and I know on his family and many students.

He continues to work to make an impact. He said to me, “I hope that my method of analysis catches on with other ichthyologists.” I hope so, too. Maybe his study will impact future scientists who will not know him, but who will pick up where he leaves off someday.

That’s what we hope to do in education, help others in a way that propels them forward. Help them adapt in ways that their gifts can make a difference.





About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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4 Responses to Evolution, Adaptability and Making an Impact on Others

  1. Brad Matthews says:

    Hey Debbie, I got your actual post this time and have just opened it. I read it from your other email to me and did not realize that you were the author until now. I thought you had forwarded another blog to me. Wow, your brother sounds like my kind of science guy. Very cool!!!



    Sent from my iPad

  2. Hi, Debbie: I always enjoy reading your blogs and garner useful ideas from them. This one is more than enjoyable however–it is profound. You said some very important things about education, not only formal learning but how we grow and develop as human beings.

  3. Bill marsh says:

    Great post Debbie. I will contact Bob to see if I can get a copy of the paper.

  4. ken brooking says:

    What a wonderful post,, you and Bob have lived such exemplary lives,,, two of my favorite role models,,, love you both.

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