DASNR's Golden Girl
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
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A sanitized lab bench covered with materials is prepared for biochemistry students as a stoic woman stands to the side, awaiting the arrival of the students in her class.
The woman is Judy Hall, biochemistry and molecular biology instructor at Oklahoma State University. Although this scene is a normal occurrence, this year is monumental as Hall celebrates 51 years at OSU as an instructor, an accomplishment few people achieve.
Hall has seen and experienced tremendous changes in the world of science throughout her time instructing and has done so with great patience and perseverance, said John Gustafson, head of the OSU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She is at the forefront of scientific laboratory teaching and is an essential piece of the department’s success, he added.
“She is kind, direct and has an incredible work ethic,” Gustafson said. “Hall is a true fixture in this department, and we can always count on her being here.”
Hall said she has adapted to many technological changes and advancements in science throughout her life with experiments and research.
“Getting the job in the lab was a total accident,” Hall said. “I took the job in the lab because I needed it. It was not at all what I had anticipated doing at first.”
Hall said she is doing what she likes and not at all what she had envisioned while she attended school at OSU pursuing a degree in microbiology.
She said her original plan was to attend nursing school, but upon graduating in 1966, she continued working as a laboratory technician at OSU. George Odell, a professor in the department, encouraged her to attend graduate school to earn a master’s degree in biochemistry, she said. Hall obtained her master’s degree in biochemistry in 1970.
Stillwater, Oklahoma, became the place she built a home, married, found a job she loves, and raised a family, she said. The job in the lab allowed her to spend valuable time with her three children and husband, Leo, as they navigated life together, she added.
A typical day for Hall involves preparing and analyzing data in between lab sessions. She researches different proteins and how they bind to different samples. Additionally, Hall and her husband spend time stewarding various types of plants in the Noble Research Center on the weekends. Hall has experienced many different research and experimentation methods throughout her years of experience.
“I find it fun to dig for new ways to experiment with things,” Hall said. “I like adapting and trying new things and would much rather be teaching students than living in a retirement home somewhere.”
Hall is affected by post-polio syndrome, a disorder of the nerves and muscles. Her symptoms of this disorder have caused her to maneuver through the lab with a walker to assist her. As a child, Hall contracted polio and had numerous surgeries and operations throughout her life in hopes of minimizing the effects of polio, she said.
Her adaptability and willingness to try new experiments despite any obstacle shows her love for the job, Gustafson said. Her colleagues and students alike know her love for science and teaching is genuine, he added.
Just as she looks for new ways to do an experiment, she also encourages and helps her students whenever possible, said Bri Clary, BIMB senior.
“She explains things in a way that makes sense for everyone, and she allows us the freedom to figure things out on our own,” Clary said. “If I ever have a question or any difficulty, she is always willing to help me.”
Hall has established sincere professionalism in the biochemistry and molecular biology department and has impacted hundreds of students throughout her 51-year career, Gustafson said.
Her diligence to reinvent laboratory exercises and adapt to technological changes has proven to be a huge success in the department, he added.
“She is constantly reinventing the laboratory curriculum to keep up with the technological advances that are ongoing in biochemistry and molecular biology, which is central to our students’ education,” Gustafson said.
“Judy has included authentic research experiences in the lab for our students,” Gustafson added, “which really gives them a hands-on experience with modern research and common biomedical issues humanity faces.”
Amid all the changes, one thing has stayed consistent through it all: her love for teaching.
“It was just an accident,” Hall said. “I graduated. I wanted a job. I wanted a career.
“I started teaching, and I liked it,” Hall said. “I enjoy seeing students understand what I am teaching and then finding ways to apply it after they have graduated.”
Hall has seen science go from “bucket chemistry” — chemistry with few safety precautions and limitations — to technologically advanced research in her 51 years of experience.
“She has made a tremendous impact on the OSU campus and on the lives of her students, and we are proud to call her an integral part of the Cowboy family,” Gustafson said.
Story by Alisa Northcutt, Cowboy Journal staff