Profile: After Retirement, Dr. Chris McConnell Discovers a New Career
South Florida Community College (SFCC) anatomy and physiology instructor, Dr. Chris McConnell, never even considered being a teacher. “Both of my parents were teachers, but it never crossed my mind,” he said.
In 2000, Dr. McConnell retired early after 28 years as a practicing physician in internal medicine, oncology, and hematology. Then in 2003, he decided he wanted to learn how to draw, so he took a drawing class at SFCC. “The first day he just sat and observed,” said Cathy Futral, SFCC art professor, “but as soon as he started drawing, it was apparent that he was an artist.”
Art came naturally to Dr. McConnell, and soon other students in the class would stop what they were doing to watch him work. “He was an inspiration to the students,” said Futral. “They learned so much more just from watching him work and seeing how patient he was while working.” Soon, Dr. McConnell was not only taking Drawing I but also Drawing II, figure drawing, watercolor, and pottery classes. He also assisted in teaching the drawing and ceramics classes and tutored students, but Dr. McConnell wanted to do something with more of an impact. “I wanted to be a full-time art teacher, but they didn’t need any more at the time, so a friend suggested I try science,” Dr. McConnell said.
“Dr. McConnell came to see me about teaching in the Natural Sciences department,” said Erik Christensen, chair, SFCC Natural Sciences. “I thought his medical experience would make him a great addition to the department. But he had very little teaching experience, so he sat through science classes for an entire term to observe our other instructors. That is how methodical and thorough he is.”
Over time, Dr. McConnell began giving small lectures in SFCC’s science classes, then gradually moved on to teaching labs, and finally classes of his own. “I had never taught before, so I was very nervous, but the students were great,” Dr. McConnell said. “They were very supportive and encouraging.”
“Many of our students are going into the medical field, so they naturally love him because he’s spent his life in the field,” Christensen said. “He’s also helped our other instructors by providing first-hand experiences and examples from case studies that show medicine in action.”
Dr. McConnell uses his art talent to draw visual diagrams for the biology and anatomy and physiology classes and his medical background to rewrite many of the PowerPoint presentation used in the department’s courses. “His previous experience has helped increase the professionalism of the Natural Science department,” Christensen said.
In 2010, Dr. McConnell received the Distinguished New Faculty award from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. Thirty-one colleges and universities throughout the world nominated faculty to receive the award. The award celebrates experienced full-time faculty who have contributed in the most highly creative ways to teaching, learning, and technology. He received the award for an online course he designed to help new students succeed in his class. “One of the big problems with anatomy and physiology is that it seems many students coming out of high school are ill-prepared for college-level science classes,” Dr. McConnell said. “The online course reviews basic science and terminology and contains a few chapters on improving study habits and helping students determine what type of learners they are.”
“When Dr. McConnell first started at SFCC, he didn’t even know how to operate a copier,” Christensen said. “Being a physician, he always had somebody who would take care of those types of things for him. Since then, he has embraced technology and even teaches online classes. That’s how far he has come.”
“The art classes I took at SFCC are what brought me to this point,” Dr. McConnell said. “If I hadn’t taken them, I wouldn’t be doing this now.”