Irene Guttilla, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Joined USJ: 2007
“Memorizing will not get you through this class,” Irene Guttilla tells her students from day one. That’s because she has set the bar higher. “My goal is to teach students how to apply the information,” she says. “I want students to be able to explain concepts in their own words, and really understand how the concept can be applied.” It is that level of analytical thinking and “active learning,” that will be valuable not only in Guttilla’s biology courses - at the undergraduate and graduate level - but throughout students’ careers, whatever path they pursue.
While technically rigorous, her classes are brimming with hands-on activities designed to relate scientific concepts to everyday life, encouraging students to engage in their studies, rather than merely reading texts and memorizing material. “I want to make sure that students see the connections, and can take concepts and put things together. I’m not a believer in cram it and forget it,” she explains. Guttilla also assigns group projects, stressing the importance communicating effectively and navigating personalities - a life skill that will prove pivotal as students’ careers unfold. While technology is ever-present in her classes, “virtual laboratories can never replace actual experiments,” and the need to explain results, face to face.
Discovery by Experiences
Guttilla has always excelled in science, but the path to teaching was indirect. In college, forensic science was her anticipated route, attracted by the field’s requisite of integrating information gleaned from a range of scientific disciplines - including biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics –to achieve results. She earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology with a research science career a distinct possibility, until she determined – after brief forays into marine biology and the pharmaceutical industry – that teaching, coupled with research, provided the most satisfaction and potentially the greatest ongoing contribution. Guttilla urges students not to predetermine their futures, but rather “explore their passions” - and she particularly enjoys “helping students find their paths.”
A determined advocate for expanding student research opportunities, Guttilla has strived successfully to expand the research capacity at USJ, and continues to pursue her own research into the formation and metastasis of breast cancer, focusing particularly on why some cancers are more aggressive, seeking to determine if there are molecular clues that can provide early diagnostic data. Her research, like her approach to instruction, is driven by analysis – gathering bits of information with an eye toward determining how the pieces fit, and the implications. She clearly savors every step of the scientific journey, much as she finds it “very rewarding” to see students develop from uncertain freshmen to confident upper level students, with teaching and research defining what Guttilla assuredly describes as “the best job in the world.”
Ph.D., University of Connecticut Health Center
B.S., University of New Haven