Turning Point Led to Teaching

Assistant professor Eriko Heise considered a career in research and then had a chance to teach. The rest, as they say, is history.

Assistant professor Eriko Heise likes her students to call her by her first name: Eriko.  She came to America 23 years ago in search of an affordable college that was close to mountains. At North Idaho College, she found a well-developed international student office, beautiful scenery close enough to the Rockies to satisfy her enthusiasm for mountains, and lots of opportunities to explore her interests. She already knew she liked animals … more specifically animals in the marsupial family. Her love of nature was undeniable. And although teaching as a long-term profession wasn’t yet on the radar, her experiences at the small Midwestern community college illustrated the power of faculty who are whole-heartedly invested in helping students learn.

After finishing her associate’s degree, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She then secured a position as a research assistant in a doctoral program in the Midwest, hoping to contribute to our understanding of biological conservation. When the assistantship funding dried up, she was switched to a teaching assistant position and never looked back.

“That was a turning point,” said assistant professor Eriko, who uses creative teaching methods like assigning students to decorate lab coats with scientific concepts. “Teaching is fun. I can share my knowledge with others, and I enjoy the interaction. Teaching allows me to work with people from all different backgrounds. Their perspectives help to widen my world.”

One might say, though, that Eriko’s world is already pretty wide. Born in Japan, she spent several years in Australia as a Japanese animator working for Walt Disney TV Productions, has lived in various parts of the United States, is teaching herself about the Native American culture, and enjoys exploring the colors and creatures that live in the oceans surrounding Australia, Mexico, Hawaii, and above all else … the Virgin Islands.

“Snorkeling is one of my favorite things to do,” said Eriko, who also enjoys sharing aspects of Japanese culture with friends. “Ocean life is beautiful and amazing. When I’m in the water, nothing else exists. It is complete peace.”   

When on land, though, (and not in class) her world is devoted to her animals. Eriko lives with three dogs and two cats and someday hopes to volunteer at an animal shelter.