Posted on December 18, 2020
This fall we are celebrating the retirement of Ms. Ann Somers after 31 years of service to UNCG. Ann will be joining the rank of emeritus faculty in the Department of Biology, will continue her research in conservation, environmental biology, and herpetology, while also continuing her work with the Department Geography, Environment, and Sustainability.
Ann Somer’s true passion is environmental education. She has worked with many students during her career. One of Ann’s colleagues who has worked with her since she was a student is Ms. Ashley LaVere, a UNCG Biology Bachelor of Science, and University of Georgia MS graduate, and currently lecturer at UNCG. Ashley has collaborated on a publication with Ann called The Box Turtle Connection.
It was spring semester of my second year as an undergrad, and I found myself sitting in class holding a blue marble out in front of me, listening to Ms. Somers introduce the Blue Marble Project. I held the marble carefully between two fingers, watching as the light reflected off of it, picturing it as a “space-view” of Earth. Ms. Somers explained the message behind the marble: we all hold the earth in our hands; it is our job to protect it and share the importance of caring for our planet with others.
Ms. Somers went on, asking us to bring the marble closer, telling us to picture it as a single drop of water and to consider how many organisms that drop of water could support. She explained that even the smallest contributions, such as a single drop of water or a single conversation, can make a difference. As Ann approaches her retirement, I can only reflect on the many contributions she has made over the years and how many “blue marbles” she has sent out into the world through her dedication to teaching and her wider involvement in the community.
Ann Somers is an educator, a scientist, but mostly she is an inspiration. She breathes life into what she teaches, fitting each concept into a broader, large-scale understanding. This is evident across many of her courses where she creates “big picture biology” by intertwining disciplines and fostering creative perspectives. When topics got too big for the classroom, she took her instruction to the field, providing students the opportunity to experience biology first-hand, and generate unforgettable memories.
Up to 2,000 students at any one time on the UNCG campus have been taught by Ann. I feel lucky to have been one of them. During my time spent under the instruction of Ann, I discovered the importance of conserving sea turtles as I held a hatchling, watching its flippers yearn for their first swim. I learned about the fragility of ecosystems while surveying ephemeral pools and witnessing a female marbled salamander wrapped endearingly around her eggs, waiting for a rainstorm to bring them their nursery. And I experienced the beauty of unique perspectives while coming together with classmates from different backgrounds in meaningful discussions about conserving the planet. To say that Ann teaches her students biology is an understatement. With Ann, you learn to experience biology all around you.
In working with Ann after graduating, I have had the opportunity to see the support she has received from the Biology Department and from the wider community. Her ideas and interests have been met with only support and enthusiasm. Ann has often spoken about how proud she is to have spent over 30 years working within a department dedicated to teaching and inspiring students, and among colleagues for whom she holds tremendous respect.
Ann played a crucial role in my experience at UNCG, and I cannot be more thankful for the opportunities she has given me and the support she has provided. As she retires, I feel that she would want her students and colleagues to reflect back on that blue marble, and to never stop trying to make a difference whether that be in a classroom, in the field or in your community.