Monica Atwell took biology classes at North Lake College 29 years ago, applied for a job helping her professors run the biology lab, and has been here ever since. Now spring 2017 marks Atwell’s retirement from NLC, after her enthusiasm for teaching and passion for the environment made her a mainstay of the NLC Biology Lab for decades.
Inside the lab and out, Monica Atwell says that her busy schedule means “work here is definitely a dance!” Her responsibilities include teaching labs, advising science students, ordering supplies, taking care of the biology department’s pet turtle, and monitoring experiments. Outside the classroom, she is a Master Composter Trainer for the City of Irving and a recipient of the city’s Keep Irving Beautiful Hometown Award.
The lab coordinator job has grown around Atwell from the beginning. It started off simply. “I was a student here taking biology and working part-time as a nurse” before getting hired as the lab coordinator. At first, “we had no more than a total of 10 labs running per week. Now we have 64 labs in a week!”
In addition to those 64 labs, Atwell advises the GREEN Club, North Lake’s student environmental organization. Together they’ve done service work, participated in public events like RecycleMania, and created “Garbology” days to show how much recyclable material the NLC community puts into the trash. A team of student volunteers frequently helps Atwell monitor the health of the water in Cottonwood Creek, which runs along the southeast corner of the Central Campus.
Students express gratitude and admiration for Monica Atwell’s work at North Lake, and she returns the compliment. She says she is inspired by the work students do at NLC. “Most of them work, have families or are juggling something in their lives. Many come from other countries and struggle with our American English. I appreciate the effort they must give, the obstacles they must overcome and the diligence and determination they must have to be successful.”