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A Conversation with Dr. Kent Davis, PUC’s 2017 Educator of the Year

Larissa Church, January 19, 2018
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On April 27, 2017, the PUC Church sanctuary was packed full of students, faculty, and staff, all excitedly awaiting the announcement of PUC’s next student-selected Educator of the Year. As PUC tradition states, the winner is a tightly kept secret known only to a few people on campus and is announced at the annual Educator of the Year Colloquy. 

When Dr. Kent Davis’ name was announced, there was loud and extended applause for the ever popular chemistry professor and department chair. As he sat in the seat of honor on the platform, the audience was treated to funny stories from his wife Rachelle Davis, a fellow PUC faculty member in the department of music, and touching stories from a few close students. 

Not everyone has the privilege of taking classes from Dr. Davis, so we asked him a few questions to get better acquainted with the man behind the 2017 PUC Educator of the Year award. 

Describe your typical work day.
I generally arrive at my office around 8 a.m. I make final preparations for my class at 9 and then go teach it. Afterwards I talk with students, make assignments covering the material from class, do other administrative tasks, or just relax for a bit. I often spend the noon hour in wind ensemble or chorale rehearsal before going back the chemistry offices to get ready to supervise labs for the afternoon.

When you were younger, what was your dream job? Is teaching similar?
I don’t know if I had a “dream” job, at least after the firefighter, astronaut, zookeeper, etc., stage of early childhood. I started college as an engineering major and switched to chemistry after my first year. My 20-year-old self would be horrified at the idea of standing in front of people and speaking out loud for a living. So no, teaching is, in that way at least, about as far from what I would have expected as possible.

How did you end up teaching chemistry at PUC?
My wife, Rachelle, was teaching music at Washington Adventist University (then Columbia Union College) and I was teaching as an adjunct professor at a Catholic women;s college in DC. The position in chemistry at PUC opened with the likelihood of a soon to open position in music and we decided to come to PUC.

Tell us about your family.
My wife, Rachelle, is a violinist who teaches in (and chairs) the department of music at PUC. Our elder son, Ethan, is a freshman at PUC Prep and our younger son, Benjamin, is a fifth grader at PUC Elementary. We have two dogs, Sammy and Gigi.

We hear you love to bake. What is the most delicious thing you’ve ever made?
I’m fairly critical of anything I bake so I don’t think I’d apply terms like ‘most delicious’ to things I made but I make a pretty good loaf of bread. We got a bread maker as a wedding present and I started there but soon got into sourdough. I’ve had my sourdough starter for about 20 years now. I feed and water it daily kind of like a pet (that I plan to eat). The sourdough experience has led me to explore other uses of bacteria/yeast cultures in food like cheesemaking. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert and many cheeses need to age for several months which makes experimenting difficult. But a nice dollop of fresh homemade goat cheese on a slice of freshly baked sourdough is quite enjoyable.

What are your other hobbies?
In another twist my 20-year-old self would be surprised to learn, since coming to PUC I have become a runner. In 2016 I ran over 1,000 miles and in 2017 I have run about 800 miles so far. The trails in PUC’s forest, the adjoining state forest, and the ridge between Angwin and Calistoga are great. I try to be out there around dawn, when I think it’s at its most beautiful. I also enjoy traveling. I’ve visited all 50 states and, in the last few years, I’ve been in Sweden, Costa Rica, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Taiwan.

What was the last book you read?
“Big Chicken” by Maryn McKenna is about how antibiotics changed agriculture and the way we eat. I just finished reading “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown to my sons. Currently I’m reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance and “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer (inspired by “Big Chicken”). I don’t usually give a lot of thought to what mix of books I read at once but it surprises me a bit that none of these recent selections are fiction.

What does it mean to you to be named the 2017 Educator of the Year?
I very much enjoy teaching so it is its own reward, but it’s very nice to hear from others that they think you’re doing a good job. On the one hand, I think since I’m Educator of the Year I better show why by being better at the parts of teaching I hate (like grading). On the other hand, I feel a little freedom to experiment more with my teaching (as in can I teach physical chemistry without lecturing).

What is your favorite thing about teaching?
Seeing my students grow and learn and become successful is very satisfying. Talking about hard problems and seeing students struggle (along with me) and gradually catch on is also a lot of fun.

What is your favorite thing about PUC?
The location. I run in the forest and along mountain ridges almost daily. I walk to work every day. Most people at PUC live close by so it’s a real community in a way most other places I’ve worked have not been.

Why should someone choose to study chemistry at PUC?
We have a long history of students having success in achieving their goals. If you do well in chemistry (or the sciences in general) at PUC, you will be well situated to do well in medical school, dental school, pharmacy, or doing study in science at a higher level.

You knew it was coming—is PUC the best school to study at to get into Loma Linda medical school?
To get into any medical school requires dedication to study, ability to avoid of distraction, capable and available teachers, and a culture among your classmates that supports excellence. I think PUC has that. Of course, students who find these less important than the ease of getting to Taco Bell or luxury living accommodations probably may not be PUC material but those values suggest they might not be getting into medical school anyway.