Arts & Sciences


Jessica Howells


Photo of Jessica Howells in the WPCC biology labI love life…all of it, including all the interactions between the living and non-living. Pillbugs, fungi, sequoia trees, your microbiome, elephants, insects, photosynthesis, songbirds, mosses…I love it all and more. Scientific inquiry for me is this…curiosity about the world, sharing a sense of wonder as a community, asking questions and trying to figure out why, and building on the questions and answers that others have explored and systematically studied. I remember hearing the definition of ecology when I was very young, “The branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings,” and thinking “That’s it! I want to study that.”…That big picture, how everything is interconnected, still fascinates me. Yet this big picture builds on the small, the physiology and the molecular processes that make it all happen. And those processes can tell us so much…even how to look back through time to life at its very earliest! Biology is awesome.

I first indulged this passion by working in natural resource management and in research. I worked for the Youth Conservation Corps and studied Wildlife Biology at NC State University. While I was at NC State and after graduating, I worked in teratology and toxicology research at National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. My husband became a state park ranger at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, so we moved, and I took a job in the Department of Surgery in the Brody School of Medicine as a trace elements lab manager. A few years later, we moved to Hanging Rock State Park, where I worked as an environmental specialist in water quality for the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Winston-Salem for a number of years. Then we moved to Morganton and had two children, and I took some time with my children, teaching part-time at Western Piedmont Community College.

This time spent teaching really increased my interest in community college science education. I returned to school at Appalachian State University and earned a M.A. in Higher Education and then a M.S. in Biology. My thesis research was in plant/insect interactions. While I was at Appalachian, I worked on a National Science Foundation funded project helping middle school teachers integrate science and math in their curricula, and I taught part-time at Lenoir-Rhyne University and Western Piedmont Community College. Upon graduating, I began working at Appalachian State University full-time as a Laboratory Manager of the Biology Department. However, I really wanted to teach biology at a community college, so I accepted a position at Wilkes Community College. I taught general biology, and anatomy and physiology, and, a few years later, I came to Western Piedmont Community College. Here I am again, almost full-circle…glad to be teaching biology at a community college in my community.

My goals as a teacher are to promote curiosity about the natural world and involve students in questions and research. I strive for a partnership with my students so that I can help facilitate their learning and growth, and so that they realize their own strengths and responsibilities in learning. I hope they become life-long learners. My students teach me also, sharing with me what they are interested in or passionate about through blogs and discussion. In this way, and in many ways, we work and learn together.
I am a member of the National Association of Biology Teachers; The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE) Community, an initiative to improve life science education; and the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI). I am also very active in the North Carolina Community College Association of Biology Instructors (NC3ABI). I received a grant to attend a summer institute at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, on course-based undergraduate research in 2016, and received training to teach forensic science through NC BioNetwork in 2016 also.

Publications and presentations include:

  • Williams, R. and Howells, J.M. (2018). Effects of Intraspecific Genetic Variation and Prior Herbivory in an Old-Field Plant on the Abundance of the Specialist Aphid Uroleucon nigrotuberculatum(Hemiptera: Aphididae). Environmental Entomology, Volume 47 (2), 422–431,
  • Howells, J.M. & R. Williams (2012). Effects of prior herbivory and plant genotype on aphid colonization of Solidago altissima. Association of Southeastern Biologists annual meeting, Athens, GA.
    Avakian, M., J. M. Howells, & R. Williams (2011). Effects of elevation and genotype on aphid infestation of Solidago altissima. Southeastern Biology, 58(3), 388.
  • Howells, J., T. Crounse, F. Whitley, J. Bray, Smith & Jones (1982). Prolonged survival of balb/c mice with a transplanted tumor (MOPC 467) induced by oral selenium plus immunoactivation with C. parvum. Society for Environmental Geochemistry and Health annual meeting, Greenville, NC.

My roots run deep in North Carolina; I come from a large family, and my mother’s family, the Silers, were some of the first European settlers in Franklin, NC. My sisters, our husbands and children, our cousins, and I will be hosting our 167th annual meeting there in summer 2018. I have volunteered with Girl Scouts and 4-H, and for the Burke County Public Library. I love to garden, read, hike, dance (Zumba and dancing of all kinds), and spend time with my family and our menagerie of animals, and I love music, theater, stories, and art.


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