Grennell named top teacher at Alcorn

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; His early aptitude for science was not lost on his parents, said Darryl Grennell, who recently won honors for his role as a science instructor at Alcorn State University.

&8220;As a kid, I always saw science as a natural niche for me,&8221; said Grennell, who teaches microbiology, medical biology and genetic biology at Alcorn.

For gifts, such as at Christmas time, he cared little about balls and bats. &8220;I always wanted something science based or mechanical based,&8221; he said.

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One Christmas his parents, Jonathan and Renza Grennell, put a skateboard under the tree for him. &8220;I tried it and fell off and broke my arm,&8221; he said. &8220;I just was not a sports enthusiast. I would rather collect rocks or explore something else in nature.&8221;

Grennell was named 2005-2006 teacher of the year at Alcorn, an honor he treasures. Now he has memories to treasure along with the honor &8212; a day at the state Capitol and a luncheon that brought winning teachers from all the universities and community colleges together for Higher Education Appreciation Day: Working for Academic Excellence.

Grennell began his university career with an eye toward medical school. As an undergraduate at Tougaloo, where he received a degree in microbiology, he had been accepted at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

He began to have doubts about that path, however. He believed that medicine was the career his family expected him to take. &8220;My parents explained to me that I didn&8217;t have to become a doctor to please them,&8221; he said.

His mind eased, he went to graduate school, where mentoring from a professor steered him to consider teaching. &8220;He told me some of the students in my class said they wanted someone like me to teach their kids someday.&8221;

Encouragement such as that kept him on track. He completed his graduate degree at Alcorn and now has completed all the course work for his doctorate degree.

He began his teaching career in Tensas Parish, where he taught high school biology, life science and earth science. In his second year, the call came from Alcorn for him to teach night classes at the Lorman campus.

&8220;Then they brought me on board full time,&8221; Grennell said. &8220;I was able to take the microbiology course and make it very attractive to students. That class became kind of a magnet for them.&8221;

His style of teaching is to lecture without notes and without a textbook in front of him. &8220;That way, you can really look at your students. You can tell if they are getting it or not,&8221; he said.

His students have gone on to make him very proud, Grennell said. &8220;I tell them that they will be able to go out and compete with the best of them in this discipline. And now I have proof of that.&8221;

He recalled an inspiring incident that occurred about nine years ago. &8220;I was sitting in my office wondering how effective I was as a teacher. I&8217;m always my own harshest critic,&8221; he said. &8220;Just then, I received a phone call from a former student who then was a student at Howard University School of Dentistry. He was calling to say thank you.&8221;

The student explained that a professor had told his students to &8220;think really hard about who got you here. Who is responsible? Call and thank them.&8221;

Grennell said the call from that student was &8220;like God sending me a message that said, &8216;Darryl, you&8217;re doing well.&8217;&8221;

Teaching is a passion for him, he said. He wakes up every day looking forward to his classes. He tells his students to be careful to choose a career that they love.

When he received the call two months ago about the award, he was &8220;dumbfounded, shocked that Academic Affairs was monitoring my work,&8221; he said.

His family has provided the opportunity and the means for him to pursue the career he loves, he said. &8220;We always were a tightly knit family. I have great parents and great grandparents. We weren&8217;t forced to go to college, but the opportunity was there,&8221; he said.

He now has been teaching at Alcorn for 17 years, including not only classes at Lorman but also at the School of Nursing in Natchez.

In addition, he headed for two years one of ASU President Clinton Bristow&8217;s first outreach programs in his &8220;communiversity&8221; program &8212; a math and science academy held on Saturdays for seventh and eighth grades in Claiborne and Jefferson counties.