Growing up in the hot, dry climate north of Austin, Texas, Kira McEntire would notice the toads living under her porch. She and her mother set out the dishwater at night and watched them play in it the next morning. When she was nine, Kira thought she’d discovered salamanders under the house. But, she learned, they were skinks.
This fall marks Dr. McEntire’s start as a professor of biology at Queens.
Experiences like these in Texas — where trees are the size of North Carolina bushes — are what sparked Dr. McEntire’s interest in reptiles. Technically, Dr. McEntire said recently, herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles, and ecology is focused on the relationship of organisms and their environments.
Igniting interest in these subjects is now Dr. McEntire’s passion.
“To be a good professor, you have to be willing to learn and continue learning with your students,” Dr. McEntire said. “That’s what makes teaching fun.”
As an undergraduate at Southwestern University, Dr. McEntire majored in studio art. But after a conversation with a professor convinced her to switch, she finished with dual majors in biology and environmental studies, with a minor in studio art.
“In some ways, these professions complement each other and the way I teach,” she said. “The visual helps students give a better understanding of biology.”
The university did not provide classes in herpetology, so she researched them independently. Later, she studied salamanders in a field course in Highlands, N.C.
“While getting my degrees, I did not realize that I was setting myself up to become a professor,” she said. As a senior at Southwestern, she was required to take a developmental class in education. She taught other students how to use a telescope, and afterward, they came up to her excited about how they could do it on their own. Their excitement made her feel good that her classmates could learn something from her. That inspired her to get her Ph.D. in teaching at Georgia State University.
Dr. McEntire chose to apply to Queens because she wanted to teach at a small liberal arts school in Charlotte. As a new professor, she plans to show students how biology affects their lives every day.
“My job is not to give knowledge,” she said. “It is to facilitate my students’ learning ability.”